Extreme Heat Injury Prevention

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					Extreme Heat Injury Prevention
When sustained heat waves hit a region, heat related injury and health ramifications can be
serious, including sunstroke and even major organ damage due to heat. According to the Center
for Disease Control, extreme heat is blamed for 700 deaths each year in the U.S. They tend to
happen in small epidemics when we are confronted with heat waves as we are experiencing this
time of year. Some experts predict this may be more commonplace due to overall global climate
changes. Heat exhaustion is a relatively common reaction to severe heat and includes symptoms
such as dizziness, headache and fainting. If left untreated, it can progress to Heat stroke. When
severe, it requires medical attention. The severe form manifests when someone can no longer
cool their body after profuse sweating leading to dry skin, a body temperature above 103 degrees
Fahrenheit, heat rash, muscle cramps, confusion and sometimes unconsciousness. Profoundly
dangerous effects to the central nervous system and circulation can happen quickly when
warning signs are ignored.

Humans cope with heat by expelling some heat through their breath and perspiring. The
evaporation of moisture off the surface of our skin dissipates the internal heat. High humidity
makes this very difficult. The cooling effect is seriously impaired. The published Heat Index
estimates how it feels and how much the humidity can increase the effect of a given temperature,
which can be 15 degrees or more when humidity is high. Urban areas are known to be "islands of
heat". The vast amount of concrete and asphalt absorbs and radiates the heat to a great extent.
The increase density of people and heat producing machinery put urban dwellers at much greater
risk than their rural counterparts. This is particularly dangerous when a heat wave lasts more than
two days. The nights do not cool down due to the stored heat and people do not get a break from
the prolonged heat. More urban heat related deaths occur at night.

Who is affected most? Elderly, the very young, people with chronic illness are most vulnerable.
Some medications may make people more sensitive to the heat (diuretics, beta blockers, mental
health meds) Discuss your concerns with your physician to see if any special precautions are
recommended. But even healthy people who have to work or exercise in extreme heat are subject
to dangerous effects.

The single most helpful thing you can do in extreme heat is spend several hours a day in air
conditioning. If you do not have air conditioning, plan to spend time with someone who does.
Many public buildings are available that have climate control such as libraries, schools, shopping
malls, coffee shops. Fans do help with the evaporation/cooling process. They can also be more
detrimental when simply blowing more hot air around. It can be comparable to a convection
oven, magnifying the bad effects of the heat. During periods of extreme heat stay indoors and
avoid direct sun. Slow down and avoid strenuous activities.

Even healthy well conditioned athletes are vulnerable to dangerous effects of heat. If you have to
work outside you need a plan. Wear loose fitting, lightweight, light colored clothing. Use a wide
brimmed hat to protect the head and face. Drink plenty of fluids. Water is the best. Alcohol and
caffeinated beverages should be avoided as they can make things worse. Eat light food in smaller
amounts but more often. Take frequent breaks to get out of the direct sun and catch up on fluids.
A buddy system is a great idea. If you work alone you may not notice the beginning effects that
can cloud your judgment. Partners can help keep an eye on each other. A buddy system is also a
great idea for elderly or those who live alone and may need assistance. Water consumption is top
of the list. Two liters a day is a good start for a normal healthy person. In extreme heat the need
goes up dramatically. Use of salt tablets is discouraged and potentially dangerous. Some sports
drinks without caffeine can be suitable but should not be the sole source of fluid replacement.
Water is the best.

Never leave children or pets in a closed vehicle. Temperatures can increase rapidly to 140
degrees which is seriously dangerous after only a few minutes.

				
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posted:7/20/2011
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