Don't be beat by the heat

Don't be beat by the heat

June 28th, 2012 by Mike O'Neal in Catoosa

Summer is still weeks away but heat-related medical emergencies have already prompted 911 calls and visits to area hospitals.

"We treated people during 1890's Day in Ringgold, one student during Heritage High School's graduation and had an ambulance on standby during last week's state baseball championship at Ringgold High School," said Dewayne Wilson, of Angel EMS.

Wilson, whose company provides medical first responder and ambulance service in Catoosa County, said he expects more of the same.

"That was during May," he said. "Meteorologists are saying this will be a hot summer, so we can expect more heat-related calls in the coming weeks and months."

Spring's higher-than-normal temperatures followed one of the warmest winters on record, according to meteorologists with the National Weather Service, and unusual warmth and drier conditions are predicted during the months following the summer solstice on June 20.

"In the emergency department we have seen a few sporadic cases at this point in the season," said Dr. Steve Perlaky, assistant medical director for Erlanger at Hutcheson's emergency department.

Perlaky said anyone - construction workers, spectators and athletes at sporting events or just someone running an errand - can be affected, particularly when high heat is combined with high humidity.

Those most at risk are the young and elderly, but everyone is at risk and should be vigilant to not overexert themselves, he said.

"Even morning hours can be intense," Perlaky said. "You should pay attention to the heat index, not just what the thermometer says."

Preventing heat-related illness requires taking some common-sense precautions and having an awareness of symptoms.

"It is essential that people keep hydrated," Perlaky said.

Wilson said dehydration caused a girl to faint during Hertiage's commencement exercise, but staying healthy during the heat of summer requires more than drinking a lot of fluids.

"Make certain that you dress for the heat, use sunscreen and wear hats," he said. "It is particularly important to make certain that kids are properly clothed. Shorts and a T-shirt might not protect them from the heat."

Due to a big increase in heat-related responses last year, Wilson said ambulances now carry coolers of water bottles and coolers filled with an ice water/ammonia mix to wet compresses to help cool victims of the heat.

Perlaky and Wilson both stress that no child or pet should ever be left inside a vehicle parked in the sun.

Research has found the windows of a car are relatively "transparent" to the sun's shortwave radiation and are warmed little, but that is not the case for objects those rays strike. For example, a dark dashboard or seat can easily reach temperatures in the range of 180 to more than 200 degrees in a relatively short period of time. Those objects soak up the sun's energy then heat the air trapped inside a vehicle.

The results can be lethal. On a sunny day when the outside air temperature is 80 degrees, a car's interior temperature can rise to 99 degrees within 10 minutes. In 20 minutes that interior temperature can be 109 degrees, in 30 minutes it can be 114 degrees and can push the thermometer to 123 degrees within an hour.

"Last year we had a couple of children that were rescued from cars," Wilson said. "Sometimes it's as simple as 'my child was sleeping, I didn't want to wake them up' when a parent went into a convenience store or Walmart for just a minute.

"Even though our ambulances have tinted windows all around, we've bought reflective sun shields to put in the windshield whenever they're parked."

Wilson said anytime people can get in the shade or somewhere out of the heat, they should.

"Take breaks, get cool," he said.

Symptoms of heat-related emergencies

Heat exhaustion

Symptoms: Heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale, clammy skin; thready pulse; fainting and vomiting but may have normal temperature.

First Aid: Get victim out of sun. Once inside, the person should lay down and loosen his or her clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. Fan or move victim to air-conditioned room. Offer sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water. If vomiting continues, seek immediate medical attention.

Heat stroke/sunstroke

Symptoms: High body temperature (106° F or higher); hot, dry skin; rapid and strong pulse; possible unconsciousness.

First Aid: Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency. Summon emergency medical assistance or get the victim to a hospital immediately. Delay can be fatal. While waiting for emergency assistance, move the victim to a cooler environment and reduce body temperature with a cold bath or sponging. Use extreme caution. Remove clothing, use fans and air conditioners. If temperature rises again, repeat process. Do NOT give fluids.

When the body heats too quickly or you lose too much fluid or salt through dehydration or sweating, your body temperature rises and heat-related illness may develop. Heat disorders share one common feature: the individual has been in the heat too long or has exercised too much for his or her age and physical condition.

Severity of heat disorders tends to increase with age. Conditions that cause heat cramps in a 17-year-old may result in heat exhaustion in someone 40 years old and in heat stroke for a person older than 60.

Air conditioning in homes and other buildings reduces danger from the heat. If you cannot afford an air conditioner, go to a library, store or other location with air conditioning for part of the day.

Sunburn reduces your body's ability to dissipate heat.

Slow down. Reduce, eliminate or reschedule strenuous activities until the coolest time of the day. Children, seniors and anyone with health problems should stay in the coolest available place, not necessarily indoors.

Dress for summer. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing to reflect heat and sunlight.

Drink water or nonalcoholic and decaffeinated fluids.