Staying safe in summer heat

Published 10:48 am Friday, June 3, 2011


Summer heat advisories are already going into effect this summer, and a rise in temperatures means a rise in heat-related health emergencies.

“High temperatures for the next seven days will average between 95 and 99 degrees, with overnight lows only dropping to around 70,” wrote Jim Stefkovich, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Calera, in an email on June 1. “It will also be very humid, and there is only a very small chance of an isolated thunderstorm each day between 4 p.m. and dark.”

Individuals with heart problems, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, poor circulation or a history of stroke are at a greater risk of experiencing symptoms of overexposure to heat, said Dr. Jim McVay, a senior official with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

McVay said elderly citizens are considered more susceptible to heat-related problems because many of them have one or more of these conditions.

According to McVay, medications for hypertension, depression or poor circulation can make individuals more vulnerable to heat-related illness because they interfere with the body’s ability to handle heat.

“Early warning signs that people have not been in an air conditioned area are dizziness, rapid heartbeat, nausea, a throbbing headache, chest pains or problems with breathing,” McVay said. “All of those are warning signs of problems in the heat.”

McVay’s advice for avoiding complications with heat is to move them to an air-conditioned area as soon as possible.

Neika Nix, a health educator at St. Vincent’s Health Systems Wellness Services, said elderly individuals who are on hypertension medication need to check with their doctors before drinking sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade because they can alter sodium levels.

For anyone, Nix advised drinking two or more glasses an hour of cool, non-alcoholic liquids.

“You want to make sure they’re not ice-cold because they can cause stomach cramps when you’re really hot,” Nix said.

Anyone working, playing, or exercising outside should do so gradually. It can take up to 14 days to acclimate to extreme heat.

“We need to make sure we give ourselves time to adjust and we take breaks more often,” Nix said. “It needs to be gradual.”

Pet Health

Animals can suffer from the same heat-related conditions as humans can, especially if they live primarily outside.

Dr. Charles Thornburg, a veterinarian at Shelbiana Animal Clinic, said the main thing to remember is to provide your pet with a source of shade and water.

“Those dogs that are short-nosed dogs like the English bulldog and Chinese pug need to be in air conditioning,” Thornburg said. “Sometimes, they cannot breathe if they are left outside.”

Thornburg said heavy-coated or longhaired dogs should be sheared during the summer months to prevent them from overheating outside. He also said thick hair could trap heat and cause a dog’s internal body temperature to rise to more than 100 degrees.

“Some people have the misconception that sheering does away with insulation,” Dr. Thornburg said. “With insulation, you are insulating the heat in. We shear a lot of pets in the summer. There’s no question they are much more comfortable.”