Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Extreme heat is dangerous

By DR. MARTHA WHYTE | Region 7 Medical Director, Office of Public Health

With temperatures being in the 90s for most of this month, and with heat indexes in the triple digits, Louisiana is facing an extreme heat wave. Although most people understand that it is hot outside and even hear warnings about the risks of high heat, truly understanding and the dangers and taking the necessary precaution is important to prevent heat-related illness and death. Here are some key facts:

  • Heat waves are dangerous. They kill more Americans every year, on average than any other extreme weather event.
  • Extreme heat kills more people by worsening chronic health conditions than through heat stroke. 
  • Those most at risk for heat illness include: 
    • Adults aged 65 and older 
    • People with chronic conditions including heart disease, mental illness, and obesity  
    • People who use drugs or drink heavily 
    • People taking certain medications 
  • Many vulnerable people do not have or do not use air conditioning and may stay home in dangerously hot conditions. 
  • Fans alone will not provide enough cooling when it is very hot outside. Without air conditioning, it can get much hotter indoors than outdoors. 
  • Illnesses and deaths from extreme heat are preventable. Being in an air-conditioned place is the best protection from the heat, especially for those at greatest risk of heat illness.
  • Becoming acclimated to the heat is critical as this is a major factor in heat-related deaths on the job  
    • Hydration is critical. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water can greatly decrease the risk of heat illness 

Football and cheerleader coaches, players, parents and other leaders who work with young people need to be especially alert to the dangers that heat can pose to their players and make sure their players are hydrated. This begins before the first whistle blows for practice. Players need to be drinking 20 ounces of water two to three hours before practice starts, then 10 ounces every 10-20 minutes. Cold water – not water from a hose that has been baking in the sun – needs to be available to everyone who is on the field.

How to prevent heat-related illness

  • Providing cool drinking water and frequent rest breaks in shaded areas. 
  • Plan for heat related illness emergencies and train leaders on prevention.  
  • Help people become acclimatized (gradually building exposure to being out in heat). Increase workloads gradually and implement frequent rest breaks during the first week of activity. 
  • Reduce the amount of strenuous and physically demanding activity or schedule heavier activity for cooler times of the day (early-morning – late afternoon). 
  • Implement a work/rest cycle. Breaks should be taken every half hour during overly hot conditions. 
  • Monitor for signs of heat illness.

What else you can do: 

  • Monitor the weather forecast for upcoming heat waves. 
  • Urge vulnerable people and their caregivers to use air conditioning or go to an air-conditioned place.
  • Alert people at risk to talk to their health care providers about staying safe in the heat. 
  • Check on family, neighbors, and friends to make sure they are safe and cool. 
  • Encourage them to use their air conditioning, or help them get to a cool place. 
  • Make sure they are drinking plenty of water. o Be alert for signs of heat illness, and call 911 immediately if someone shows these signs

Common Types of Heat Illness

  • Heat Rash: Skin irritation caused by sweat not being able to evaporate from the skin while working in hot/humid conditions. 
    • Symptoms include: Clusters of red bumps on the skin. Commonly appearing on the arms, neck, or chest. 
    • First-Aid Measures: Working in a cooler, less humid environment. Keep body-parts dry where heat rash has appeared. 
  • Heat Cramps: May be caused by the loss of vital body fluids due to sweating. Fatigued muscles are commonly affected by painful cramping during or after work. 
    • Symptoms include: Muscle spasms. Pain in overworked body parts, such as legs, arms, and abdomen. 
    • First-Aid Measures: Rehydrate with cool water or electrolyte sport drinks. Rest in cool or shaded areas and ease back into heavy or strenuous work. Seek additional medical treatment if cramps do not subside. 
  • Heat Exhaustion: Is a very serious heat-related illness. Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to excessive loss of water and body salts due to heavy sweating. 
    • Symptoms include: Excessive sweating, cool, moist skin, weakness, headache, elevated body temperature, rapid heart beat, light headedness, irritability. 
    • First-Aid Measures: Get out of the heat and sit or lie down in a cool or shaded area. Encourage frequent sips of cool water. Cool the worker with ice packs or cold compresses/towels. Have the worker wash his or her head, face, and neck with cold water. Workers should be taken to a clinic or emergency room for evaluation if the symptoms worsen. 
  • Heat Stroke: Is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body is unable to control its internal core temperature and cannot cool itself, causing body temperature to rise to 104° or higher. 
    • Symptoms include: Confusion, altered mental status, loss of consciousness, hot/dry skin, body temperature above 104°, excessive sweating, seizures. 
    • First-Aid Measures: Get medical help immediately by calling 911. Move the worker to a cool area and remove outer clothing. Cool the worker with cold water and ice if possible. Place cold wet cloths, towels or compresses on the head, neck, armpits and circulate air around the worker to help with cooling.

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