By Sean Rabé
With 100-degrees and above temperatures forecast for the week, Mother Lode residents need to be aware of the possibility of dehydration and heat illness.
According to the Center for Disease Control, more people die each year from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined. Nearly 400 people die each year nationwide from exposure to heat.
Children, the elderly and the chronically ill or obese are particularly at risk for developing heat illness because of an underdeveloped or failing thermoregulatory system, according to the CDC. In addition to age, risk factors for heat-related illness and death include impaired mobility, drug and alcohol consumption and increased physical activity without adequate rest or fluid intake.
At the same time, the good news is that heat-related illnesses are 100 percent preventable. The keys are drinking enough fluids before, during and after an activity and recognizing the warning signs as they develop.
People suffer heat-related illnesses when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself by sweating, but under extreme conditions this isn´t enough. In these cases, a person´s body temperature rises very rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.
Heat stroke is the result of long exposure to extreme heat. The body cannot sweat enough to lower its temperature. Normal temperature regulating systems fail, then shut down. Sweating often stops entirely. Heat stroke is often, but not always, preceded by headache, dizziness, nausea or chills. Heart rate may reach 160 to 180 beats per minute, with body temperatures reaching as high as 104 to 106 degrees.
Heat exhaustion is caused by heavy sweating due to exposure to heat for many hours. Salts are depleted along with fluid, causing fatigue, low blood pressure, disorientation and fainting.
According to the CDC, the best defense against heat illness is prevention. Some tips for prevention are:
• Drink more fluids regardless of your activity level. Don´t wait until you are thirsty to drink. Don´t drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar as they actually cause you to lose more body fluids.
• Stay indoors and if possible stay in an air-conditioned room. If your home does not have air-conditioning, go to a store or the library – even a few hours spent in air-conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
• Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath is a much better way to cool off.
• Keep yourself well hydrated. Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day
• Wear light-colored, absorbent and loose-fitting clothes. Natural fibers like cotton are best.
• Rest frequently and stay in shaded areas when possible.
• Become acclimated to hot weather before exercising and avoid over exertion.
• Plan your day so you are in a cool environment during the hottest part of the day.
• Remember that pets can get heat exhaustion also. Dogs don´t know when to stop playing, so keep them quiet and resting and never leave a pet in a car on a hot day.
Special considerations should be given to protect children from heat illnesses, also.
“As we all know, babies and young children are especially susceptible to potential safety risks and parents or caregivers must be particularly aware about protecting them,” said Nina Machado, Program Director for First 5 Amador.
First 5 Amador encourages those caring for young children to review and make use of the following tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics during the coming months and beyond:
• For babies under six months – Avoid sun exposure. The best ways to prevent sunburn are to dress infants in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and brimmed hats. Parents can also apply a minimal amount of sunscreen to small areas, such as the infant´s face and the back of the hands.
• For young children – Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside, and use sunscreen even on cloudy days. The SPF should be at least 15.
• Never leave children alone in or near the pool, even for a moment.
• Install a fence at least five-feet high around all four sides of the pool and make sure pool gates self-close and self-latch at a height children can´t reach.
• Keep rescue equipment (a shepherd´s hook – a long pole with a hook on the end – and life preserver) and a portable telephone near the pool.
• Avoid inflatable swimming aids such as “floaties.” They are not a substitute for approved life vests and can give children a false sense of security.
Children are not developmentally ready for swim lessons until after their fourth birthday. Swim programs for children under age four should not be seen as a way to decrease the risk of drowning.
Stay within arm´s length whenever infants or toddlers are in or around water, providing “touch supervision.”
Make sure swings are made of soft materials such as rubber, plastic or canvas.
Make sure children cannot reach any moving parts that might pinch or trap any body part.
Make sure metal slides are cool to prevent children´s legs from getting burned.
The elderly are especially vulnerable to heat illnesses and should be more careful to not overexert themselves during times of extreme heat.
Laurie Webb, Amador Senior Services Director, said she encourages senior citizens who are mobile to come down to the Senior Center to enjoy the building´s air conditioning. And although utility bills escalate during the summer months, senior citizens need to weigh the benefits of using air conditioning to stay cool.
“It is expensive to get sick from heat exhaustion,” she said. “By using the air conditioning frugally, or by using it in addition to using fans, energy bills may be kept down a bit. Also, since some elderly people don´t have very good circulation they feel cold so they won´t turn the air on and won´t drink enough fluids to stay hydrated.”
Webb also encourages neighbors to look in on their elderly neighbors when it´s hotter than usual.
“We encourage visits all the time, but it is even more important in the summer months,” she said. “If you don´t see an elderly neighbor following their usual routine, don´t assume they are just staying in to stay out of the heat. Give them a call and check in on them.”
Webb suggested seniors follow these tips to prevent heat illnesses:
• Eat lightly and drink plenty of fluids. Avoid caffeine and alcohol on the hottest days.
• Wear loose, light-colored, lightweight clothing.
• Use a small, battery operated mister for a quick cool down when you have to be out in the heat.
• Close shades and draperies in sunny windows.
• Stay in the coolest part of the house as much as possible when you are home.
• Air out hot cars before you get into them. Roll down the windows and keep your purse in your hands while you wait for the car to cool off.
• If it is safe, leave your windows open at night to create a cross breeze.
• Spend the middle of the day in air-conditioned places: stores, libraries, community centers and the senior center.
Reprinted with permission from Amador Ledger Dispatch