It’s August, and the hot, so-called dog days of summer are here. Now is an excellent time to review our warm weather wellness needs and ways to practice preventive health care measures that may save a life.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year. “Some people are more at risk of developing a heat-related illness, including adults age 65 and older, those with chronic medical conditions, people who work outside, infants and children and athletes.

Among the “some people” the CDC refers to, are the millions of African Americans who have pre-existing health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, asthma and other chronic respiratory illnesses. To ensure wellness when the heat is high, special care and precautions are required.

Anyone who participates in summer sports or supervises outdoor activities should know and recognize the symptoms of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The latter is a very serious, life-threatening condition.

The American Red Cross advises when “a person is experiencing heat cramps in the legs or abdomen, get them to a cooler place, have them rest, lightly stretch the affected muscle, and replenish their fluids with a half a glass (about 4 ounces) of cool water every 15 minutes.”

If someone is exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion (cool, moist, pale or flushed skin, heavy sweating, headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, exhaustion), the Red Cross recommends “moving them to a cooler place, remove or loosen tight clothing and spray the person with water or apply cool, wet clothes or towels to the skin. Fan the person. If they are conscious, give small amounts of cool water to drink. Make sure the person drinks slowly. Watch for changes in condition. If the person refuses water, vomits or begins to lose consciousness, call 9-1-1.”

Heat stroke is a far more dangerous condition. Untreated heat stroke can result in death, says the Red Cross. “Signs include hot, red skin which may be dry or moist; changes in consciousness; vomiting and high body temperature. Call 9-1-1 immediately if someone shows signs of heat stroke. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the person’s body by immersing them up to their neck in cold water if possible. Otherwise, douse or spray the person with cold water, or cover the person with cold, wet towels or bags of ice.”

The World Health Organization which offers global recommendations for staying healthy during summer heat waves, advises the following:

  1. Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Dehydration can occur quickly in hot weather.
  1. Avoid excessive outdoor activities: Limit your time outdoors during peak heat hours, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Postpone activities in extreme heat.
  1. Dress appropriately: Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothing to help your body regulate its temperature.
  1. Seek shade: When outdoors, find shady areas or use an umbrella to protect yourself from direct sunlight.
  1. Wear sunscreen: Apply sunscreen with a high SPF to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
  1. Use a hat and sunglasses: Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shield your face and neck and protect your eyes with sunglasses.
  1. Cool off indoors: Spend time in air-conditioned places like shopping malls, libraries, or community centers.
  1. Take cool showers or baths: Refresh yourself with cool water to lower your body temperature.
  1. Eat light meals: Opt for light, easily digestible foods, and avoid heavy, hot meals that can raise your body temperature.
  1. Limit caffeine and alcohol: Both can contribute to dehydration, so consume them in moderation.
  1. Use fans and/or air conditioning: If you don’t have access to air conditioning, use fans to circulate air and create a cooling effect.
  1. Be mindful of medications: Some medications can make you more susceptible to heat-related issues, so consult your doctor if you have concerns.

Two final reminders as the mercury soars and hovers around 100 degrees: First, hot cars can be deadly. Never leave children or pets in your vehicle. The inside temperature of the car can quickly reach 120 degrees.  Secondly, check on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air conditioning, and spend much of their time alone or have pre-existing health conditions that make them more likely to be affected by the heat.

Jayne Hopson
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