Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are among the main threats in summer weather. Seniors and children are especially vulnerable. Here are some tips for staying safe and what to look out for.
TIPS FOR KEEPING SAFE IN EXTREME HEAT
- Drink 6 to 8 cups of fluid daily to prevent dehydration. Water and sports drinks are the best choices. Avoid alcohol and caffeine because they dehydrate the body.
- Wear light-colored, lightweight clothing. If you have to go outside during the hottest part of the day, wear a hat.
- Avoid overexertion and strenuous outdoor activities.
- While outdoors, rest frequently in a shady area.
- Never leave children, the elderly or pets in a parked car, not even for a few minutes. Brain damage or death can occur from the rapid rise of temperature inside the vehicle.
- Make a special effort to check on neighbors, especially if they are seniors, families with young children, people with special needs or living alone.
WHAT IS HEAT STROKE?
Heat stroke, a serious illness that can cause death or permanent disability, occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature due to overheating. Symptoms include fever, red skin, trouble sweating, elevated pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and fainting.
Home Instead Senior Care, a home-care service based on Bonny Oaks Drive, offers these tips to avoid getting heat stroke or other heat-related illness:
- Take preventive health measures, like preparing for summer heat exposure by choosing protective clothing. The Mayo Clinic recommends wearing loose-fitting, lightweight clothing to allow the body to better cool itself naturally. Adding a broad-brimmed hat or cap can also help keep internal temperatures low and protect from sunburn - a condition that heightens the risk of heat stroke by lessening the skin's ability to regulate heat.
- Plan ahead to avoid strenuous activity during the hottest parts of the day. Many activities such as running errands or visiting friends and family members can be rescheduled for the morning or evening hours, when temperatures are cooler and the sun's rays are less direct. If the time cannot be adjusted, stay hydrated and rest frequently in a cool area to avoid the increased risk of overheating.
- Pay attention to symptoms of heat-related health problems. The University of Connecticut found that older adults are the most susceptible demographic to dehydration due to reduced kidney function that occurs naturally as we age, as well as the frequent use of diuretics often taken for high blood pressure, according to AARP. Be aware of muscle cramps, dizziness, headaches, constipation or impaired memory or concentration function. Also monitor for heat stroke, which can present itself through high body temperature, confusion or slurred speech, flushed skin, rapid breathing and a headache.
- Take action to cool someone experiencing heat-related symptoms. Once a symptom is identified, immediate action is critical to treat the senior and prevent escalation in the reaction. The Mayo Clinic shares three steps:
* Get the person in the shade, indoors and out of the heat.
* Remove any excess clothing to help the body breathe.
* Cool the person with whatever means available (e.g. place a wet towel on the person's head, neck or armpits or submerge the individual in cool water).
- Monitor and/or assist with medications. Some prescribed medications may affect a senior's natural ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat. Talk with your senior and their doctor about any increased risks assumed by taking these types of medications.
HOW TO KEEP PETS SAFE
Just like humans, hot weather provides plenty of health risks for animals, and each year, household pets die as a result of heat stroke.
Here are some tips for keeping your furry friends safe from the heat:
- Give them plenty of fresh, clean and cold water. Keep animals hydrated, whether indoors or outdoors, and add ice during heatwaves.
- Never leave animals alone in a parked vehicle. Not only can it lead to fatal heat stroke, it is illegal in several states.
- Make sure your pets have a shady place to get out of the sun. Provide your pet with protection that allows for airflow, like tree shade or tarps. Doghouses make the heat worse.
- Be careful not to over-exercise them. Try to only schedule exercise for the early morning or evening hours.
- Keep them indoors when it's extremely hot.
- Be aware of humidity levels. If high enough, animals will not be able to cool themselves off.
- Prevent overheating by using cooling mats, body wraps or vests that can be soaked in water to stay cool for days.
- Know the symptoms of overheating and heatstroke in pets, which include excessive/heavy panting or difficulty breathing, restlessness, increased heart and respiratory rate, dark red gums, drooling, hypersalivation, excessive thirst, dark red or purple tongue, mild weakness, dizziness, glazed eyes, stupor or even collapse and unconsciousness. Symptoms can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomiting along with an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees.
- Animals with flat faces, like Pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.
- Treat an animal with heatstroke by moving them to a shady, breathable area, applying cold towels or ice packs to their chest, head and neck, and running cool (not cold) water over their body. Allow them to drink small amounts of water or lick ice cubes. Take them directly to a veterinarian since the consequences of heat stroke may not be visible for hours or even days.
The Associated Press, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society, American Red Cross and Chattanooga Holistic Animal Institute contributed to this story.