Staying Safe in the Sun and Heat
Topeka—Fourth of July weekend is a great time for families, neighbors and communities to get together and celebrate outdoors. The Kansas Departments on Aging (KDOA) and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) are reminding Kansans to protect themselves in hot summer temperatures.
The National Weather Service statistical data shows that heat causes more fatalities per year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. It is vital to remember that seniors, infants, children and people with chronic medical conditions are more prone to heat stress and heat-related illness.
“When temperatures start to rise, it’s important to know how to protect yourself and others, especially those who are at greater risk of heat-related illness,” said Shawn Sullivan, Secretary of KDOA. “If you have a friend, relative or neighbor who doesn’t have air-conditioning, now would be a good time to talk with them about getting into a cooler place.”
“The best defense against heat-related illness is prevention,” said Dr. Robert Moser, Secretary of KDHE. “Staying cool and making simple changes in your fluid intake, activities and clothing during hot weather can help you remain safe and healthy.”
Heat-related illness is always of concern during hot weather, and may be characterized as heat stress, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
- Heat stress includes faintness, painful muscle spasms and cramps and prickly heat caused by a skin rash from clogged pores. Heat stress is caused by loss of fluids and minerals in the body needed for proper muscle function.
- Heat exhaustion, which is more serious, includes headache, dizziness, clammy skin, muscle fatigue, chest pain, breathing problems and nausea. Medical attention is necessary if these conditions persist.
- Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that should be considered an emergency. Headache, hot and dry skin, temperature of 103 degrees or higher, rapid and shallow breathing, disorientation and changes in consciousness are all symptoms of heat stroke. The person should be cooled quickly with cold, wet sheets or a cool bath and taken to the nearest hospital.
Follow these steps to minimize your risk of heat-related illness:
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which dehydrate the body. Drink at least a gallon of water a day when spending time outdoors.
- Wear loose-fitting and light-colored clothing.
- When children play outdoors, dress them lightly, and make sure they take frequent breaks indoors and drink plenty of fluids. A child should never be left in a hot, closed car or near a sunny window. Also, young children should wear a sunscreen of SPF 50 to reduce their risk of sunburn. Infants should have very little or no contact with sunlight.
- Friends, relatives and neighbors of elderly people should periodically visit them during the summer months and take them to a cooler environment if needed.
- Take frequent breaks to cool off.
- Eat light meals like fruit and salads. Eat apricots, bananas, cantaloupes, oranges, beans, broccoli, potatoes and tomatoes to increase potassium.
- Schedule outdoor activities for morning and evening, but avoid dawn and dusk due to the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses. When outdoors, try to stay in the shade.
- Use sunscreen and other measures such as wearing sunglasses to limit UV radiation.
- Create airflow in hot indoor work areas.
- Spend most of your time indoors and in an air-conditioned room. If you do not have air conditioning, many larger communities have places where you can go during heat waves including the local health department, senior citizen center, libraries, hospitals and Red Cross. Also, basements are usually cooler than ground-level floors.
For more information on dealing with extreme summer heat, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/index.asp.