Take Precautions in Extreme Heat

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Provided by Prince William Fire & Rescue

Photo credit: photos-public-domain.com

It’s that time of the year when the forecast is predicting hot and humid weather; just one of the many signs summer has arrived. As periods of high temperatures continue, individuals should heed weather warnings to avoid becoming a victim of hyperthermia, a heat-related illness referred to as heat stroke. Hyperthermia occurs when the body is exposed to excessive heat and produces or absorbs more heat than it can release causing the body’s temperature to climb.

Hyperthermia can affect anyone, yet children and the elderly are most vulnerable. Each year, children die from hyperthermia after being left unattended in motor vehicles. According to the Department of Geosciences (Department of Meteorology & Climate Science, ggweather.com/heat/), a total of 712 heatstroke deaths of children left in cars has occurred since 1998. Last year, there were 39 reported hyperthermia deaths of children left in cars, an increase from the previous year; and so far this year, 12 children have died in hot cars due to hyperthermia.

Although the month of July holds the record for being the deadliest month for children trapped in cars, any month with high temperatures is deadly to children left in cars. Prince William County Fire & Rescue Chief Kevin McGee in conjunction with safety advocates Kids and Cars and Safe Kids USA, remind parents and caregivers to be vigilant and practice safe measures in the prevention of injuries and deaths caused by vehicular hyperthermia. To prevent this tragedy from occurring parents and caregivers must:

  • NEVER leave children unattended in a car – NOT EVEN FOR A MINUTE
  • ALWAYS check the back seat of the vehicle before exiting (Beat the Heat, Check the Back Seat)

Symptoms of hyperthermia are:

  • Heat Stress (strain placed on the body as a result of hot weather)
  • Heat Syncope (sudden dizziness)
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Heat Fatigue
  • Heat Cramps
  • Heat Stroke

The two most common symptoms of hyperthermia are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke is the most dangerous symptom of hyperthermia. Heat stroke occurs when the body has prolonged exposure to high temperatures; combined with dehydration, heat stroke can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs – it can kill. When heat stroke occurs, individuals should seek immediate medical attention by calling 911.

Signs/symptoms of heat stroke are:

  • High body temperature (above 103°F)
  • Red, hot, dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, cdc.gov/), the elderly are vulnerable to heat-related illnesses, such as heat stress, due to underlying medical conditions, lack of air conditioning, social isolation and poor economic status. Heat stress occurs when the body is unable to cool itself by sweating. To protect the elderly:

  • Visit them at least twice a day; watch for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke
  • Take them to air-conditioned locations
  • Make sure they have access to an electric fan

Heat exhaustion, a condition that precedes hyperthermia, is an indicator that the body’s temperature is rising. Heat exhaustion occurs when a person exercises, works or resides in a hot environment and sweating is unable to cool the body down resulting in dehydration — water, lost through sweating, has not been replaced. Signs/symptoms of heat exhaustion are:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness/fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Skin: cool and moist
  • Pulse rate: fast and weak
  • Breathing: fast and shallow

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion take immediate action:

  • Get to a cooler area, preferably air conditioned, e.g., libraries, shopping malls, community facilities
  • Bathe/sponge/shower/spray with cool water (not cold)
  • Wrap the body in wet towels or clothes
  • Apply cold compresses to torso, head, neck and groin
  • Drink water or fruit juice for hydration; avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Seek immediate medical assistance

If strenuous work or activities are unavoidable during daylight hours when temperatures are at their highest or staying indoors is not an option, follow these simple safety tips to protect you and your loved ones against the heat:

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing
  • Wear clothing light in color and weight
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat with vents also light in color
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of liquids

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