After record-breaking temperatures made the news at the end of June, local organizations are working to make sure everyone stays cool during what is shaping up to be a sweltering summer.
The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department in particular is concerned with helping locals avoid heat-related illnesses that can be caused by overexposure to high temperatures and lack of hydration.
"Heat-related illness is serious and can affect everyone," said the health department's public information officer, Abena Williams. "It can develop quickly and if left untreated may progress to a life-threatening condition."
According to Williams, heat-related illness includes heat exhaustion and heat stroke, both of which can occur when the body's temperature control system is overloaded. People at the greatest risk for heat-related illness are children under the age of 4 and people over the age of 65, but anyone can suffer from heat-related illness, which in extreme cases can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs.
"The most common mistake [people make] is not taking heat risk as seriously as it should be taken and underestimating the need for water," said Williams.
She listed the following tips for avoiding heat-related illness: stay in an air-conditioned location when possible; drink plenty of water or other sugar-free sports drinks; wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing; wear sunscreen when outdoors; avoid leaving pets or people in cars for any length of time; and check on people who may be susceptible to heat-related illness.
"When temperatures soar like they have lately, children need education regarding how to play safely in higher temperatures, but they also need much closer adult supervision," Williams said.
Signs of heat exhaustion can include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting or fainting. Williams said the best way to treat heat exhaustion is by seeking air conditioning, drinking water, resting and taking a cool shower or bath. If symptoms persist for more than an hour or if they worsen, she said receiving medical treatment is recommended since the person may be suffering from a heat stroke.
Pets are also susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, according to McKamey Animal Center Executive Director Karen Walsh. She said it's important to keep pets well-hydrated, in air-conditioned areas if possible and to make sure outdoor pets have access to shade or other places to cool off, like a child's pool or fan that sprays mist.
"The best thing you can do is leave them at home in the air conditioning instead of taking them out with you," she said. "It's important not to leave them in a car for any length of time."
Even a few minutes in a car can cause pets to suffer from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, Walsh said. Symptoms for heat-related illness in pets include lethargy, fever, shaking and staggering. It's important to get pets to a veterinarian immediately if they exhibit these symptoms for an extended period of time or if the pet is not better after drinking water or cooling off with ice packs or wet towels, she said.
Staying indoors or in places with air conditioning can help prevent heat exhaustion in both humans and animals, but high outdoor temperatures can make it difficult to maintain low indoor temperatures, especially if the home is older or a person is working with a restricted budget.
"As we all know it gets really hot here in the summer," said Electric Power Board Public Relations Supervisor Deborah Dwyer. "It can be hard to keep cool, especially since people in the community don't always have quality air conditioning."
According to her, there are several simple ways people can keep their homes cooler during the summer. She listed cooking with a microwave instead of oven, supplementing air conditioning with box fans, installing white drapes or curtains, making sure all doors and windows are closed and replacing old air filters as several easy ways to help keep cooler this summer.
For those without sufficient air conditioning, several area programs are helping locals receive box fans and cold water.
Efforts by The Salvation Army and United Way of Greater Chattanooga have already distributed an estimated 600 fans to low-income people in need of relief from the heat throughout the Chattanooga area. According to Chattanooga Salvation Army Chapter Director of Marketing and Public Relations Kimberly George, The Salvation Army has also helped people on fixed incomes afford their increased utility bills caused by the heat.
"We usually see these kinds of distribution numbers in late July or early August," said George.
Both programs are still in need of donations and are taking requests for people who need fans. To donate to The Salvation Army call 1-800-Sal-Army; to donate to United Way call 265-8000. To request a fan contact The Salvation Army at 756-1023 or call United Way at 2-1-1.