Beat the heat: Tips to avoid heat-related illnesses

PELHAM – With Alabama summers being among the hottest in the United States, it’s important to be knowledgeable about what precautions to take to prevent heat related illnesses, which occur when one’s body cannot not adequately cool itself.

Examples of heat-related illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat rash, heat cramps and fainting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with the greatest risk of suffering from a heat-related illness include those over 65 years old, people with chronic medical conditions, outdoor workers, infants and children and athletes.

Pelham Parks and Recreation Director Billy Crandall, who oversees a lot of outdoor workers, said safety meetings take place on a monthly basis and best practices while working in the sun is always discussed.

“A lot of it may seem like common sense stuff, but sometimes we don’t always use our common sense, or we might not take a break because we think we’re fine,” he said. “In most cases, you feel fine until you’re not.”

Crandall said lawn mower covers have been installed on city lawn mowers to provide extra protection from the sun, and the least labor-intensive tasks are completed during the hottest parts of the day.

The city also provides sunscreen and cooling bandanas for outdoor workers.

“They’re allowed to take a break whenever they feel like they need one and we make sure they have something to drink on the mowers,” Crandall said.

According to a heat safety handout from city of Pelham risk manager and safety coordinator Chris Deshazo, outdoor workers are advised to take a 10-minute break every hour in a cooler environment. Workers are also educated on how to recognize heat-related illnesses.

The CDC reports that an average of more than 600 people die from complications due to extreme heat every year – that’s more than tornadoes, hurricanes or any other weather-related event.

As families head to the pool, lake and beach this summer, American Family Care (AFC), which has urgent care facilities located in Pelham, Alabaster, Hoover and Calera, is reminding everyone that heat related deaths and injuries are preventable when following some simple advice to beat the heat.

First and foremost, the AFC advises the public to drink more water. It’s also important to keep in mind that the sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Doctors advise doing yard work or other outdoor chores early in the morning or in the evening when temperatures are lower.

It is advised to drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water to avoid dehydration, according to AFC.

“Remember, caffeine and alcoholic beverages can cause your body to lose water,” states AFC. “When your body is not properly hydrating, you can experience heat exhaustion and then possibly a heat stroke.”

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body over heats. Symptoms include sweating, dizziness, a rapid pulse, nausea, headache and/or cool, moist skin. This typically happens before experiencing a heat stroke, which is the most severe of the heat-related illnesses.

“If you don’t get in front of a medical expert, it could kill you,” advises AFC. “When your body temperature hits 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, your brain, kidneys and muscles can be damaged and this could lead to serious complications.”

Some medications can also put individuals more at risk for heat-related illnesses. Those taking medications should also their doctor how their prescriptions could react to severe heat. For example, beta blockers for blood pressure can make it difficult for someone to regulate their body temperature. Over the counter medications for cold, cough or allergies can dry you up and make it difficult to sweat, which means the body cannot cool down.

Sunscreen is also a must. It is critical to always wear at least 30 SPF sunscreen and apply it every couple of hours, making sure sensitive areas are covered.

Food can also held prevent dehydration. Watermelon is 90 percent water and lettuce is 95 percent water.

For more information about heat-related illnesses, visit CDC.gov.