As I am writing this, I am enjoying the warm 89 degree weather that Florida summers offer. I personally love the heat. Having grown up in Pennsylvania and shoveled my fair share of snow, I vowed when moving to Florida that I would never complain about the heat. To me, warm weather makes being on the water more fun and makes an ice cold beer taste even better. But could the heat be dangerous?
Excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths in the United States from 1979 to 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More people have died in this time period from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined.
The first thing I want to stress is prevention of heat-related emergencies. You know the old saying, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. With heat-related emergencies, I want you to think in terms of ounces – ounces of water, that is. Not alcohol, coffee, tea or soda – these dehydrate you. Think and drink water. When working or playing outdoors in the heat, you should drink a lot of cool water. Make certain you break often for more cool water. Notice I said cool not cold, because very cold drinks may cause stomach cramps.
There are many things that can cause heat-related emergencies, for starters high temperatures and high humidity. Often high heat and humidity affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, your sweat will not evaporate quickly. This sweat on the skin prevents the body from releasing heat quickly. Other factors that may increase your risk are age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use can also affect our body’s ability to cool itself. And yes, a hard night of drinking alcohol the night before can increase your risk factor – you may wish to switch to club soda if you know that your next day is going to be a long hot day in the sun.
Here are common heat-related emergencies and warning signs:
Symptoms of heat exhaustion:
- Cold, moist skin, chills
- Dizziness or fainting
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea, vomiting or both
- Weak or rapid pulse
Symptoms of heat stroke:
- Confusion and/or unconsciousness
- High body temp (above 103 F)
- Nausea, vomiting or both
- Strong and rapid pulse
- Throbbing headaches
- Warm, dry or moist skin
Warning signs for heat stroke vary but may also include red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating), rapid, strong pulse and dizziness.
If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Call for immediate medical assistance, get the victim out of the sun and cool the victim rapidly by placing the person in a cool shower or spraying the victim with cool water from a hose.
Get medical attention as soon as possible. If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call or radio for further emergency medical instructions which may include giving the patient oxygen. Lastly, if there is vomiting, make sure the airway remains open by turning unconscious victims on their side in the recovery position.
Here are tips to avoid heat related-emergencies: Drink plenty of fluids, work smarter, not harder by working outdoors during cooler parts of the day, ease into summer by allowing your body to adapt to heat, wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that allows the body to breathe, try to work with others for safety.
Keith Murray is the owner of The CPR School, Keith@TheCPRSchool.com. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.