The heat is on: Reduce risks this summer

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – In extreme heat, seemingly normal activities can be dangerous. Even deadly.

Heat can kill.

News of the heat-related death of a professional football player in Minnesota has attracted national attention. But he is not the lone fatality.

A young man who offered to help a stranded motorist in Kansas also died – pushing a car proved too much in the heat.

A young child who was left sleeping in a car while parents attended a religious service was another recent fatality. And there are others.

Can be anyone. Children, older adults and pets can be particularly vulnerable, but anyone can be at risk. Heat can be deadly, said Mary Knapp, Kansas state climatologist, who is headquartered at Kansas State University.

Monitoring weather information – and advisories – can be lifesaving, but monitoring temperature alone is not enough to eliminate risks, Knapp said.

Lower temperatures can be misleading. For example, Knapp recently measured the heat in a white car parked with the windows rolled up.

Hotter than you think. There were intermittent clouds and the outside temperature was 70 degrees. In the car, however, the temperature ranged from 120 degrees to 149 degrees.

The temperature rose rapidly, said Knapp, who said that leaving people – particularly children, older adults and pets – in a vehicle for even a short time can be deadly.

Parents also are cautioned to monitor children who want to ‘play’ in a vehicle. As they pretend to drive, they may trip automatic locks and become trapped.

To reduce risks from heat, Knapp advises monitoring the temperature, heat index, and dew point.

Check the dew point. “Checking the dew point – the temperature at which moisture condenses – can be helpful. A dew point in the upper 60s or low 70s signals that there is quite a bit of moisture in the air.

“When high temperatures are accompanied by a high dew point, discomfort can result. Potential health risks can increase,” Knapp said.

Even lower temperatures with high dew points can be uncomfortable. For example, a temperature of 82 degrees with a dew point of 82 equal a heat index of 95 degrees, she said.

“Monitoring the temperature and dew point, rather than the temperature and the relative humidity, usually is more helpful.

“Relative humidity is just that – relative. It can change each time the temperature changes, while the dew point usually is more stable,” Knapp said.

Heat stroke vs. heat exhaustion. Learning to identify the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be lifesaving.

“With heat exhaustion, a person may feel clammy; sweat profusely; and/or feel weak, dizzy or nauseated. Body temperature may, however, be close to normal,” said Mike Bradshaw, Kansas State University Research and Extension safety specialist.

When heat exhaustion is suspected, the safety specialist offered these guidelines:

* Loosen clothing.

* Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.

* Lie down; elevate feet slightly.

* Shade the person from direct sun.

* Apply cool, wet cloths to the forehead.

* Fan the person suffering from heat exhaustion and/or move him or her to an air-conditioned facility or room cooled with a fan.

* If a person suffering from heat exhaustion starts vomiting, do not force fluids. Seek medical treatment immediately.

Stroke symptoms. With heat stroke, a person also may feel dizzy, weak or confused. Skin will feel dry rather than sweaty. Body temperature can rise to 105 degrees or higher.

If heat stroke is suspected, seek medical treatment immediately. While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, shade the person from direct sun and loosen clothing. Cooling the body to reduce body temperature is important.

Use air-conditioning, cool water – even a garden hose or shower – to begin reducing body temperature. Avoid stimulants, such as coffee, tea or colas with caffeine, Bradshaw said.

Precautions. Extreme heat calls for some precautions, the safety specialist said. He offered these tips:

* Whenever possible, limit outside hours during extreme heat. Try to work early and take a few hours off during the warmer part of the day.

* Wear loose-fitting clothing. Natural fibers, such as cotton, can be cooler than synthetics.

* Wear light-colored clothing that will reflect, rather than absorb, the heat.

* Wear a hat.

* Use sunscreen.

* Drink plenty of water to replenish body fluids lost through perspiration, the body’s way of cooling itself.

Cool water passes through the stomach quickly, making it a good choice to re-hydrate the body. Drink water before, during and after activity to maintain fluids. Don’t wait until you are thirsty.

* Read medication labels. Heat and sunlight may influence the effectiveness of some medications and/or cause undesirable side effects.

* Seek cooler environments with family or friends, or spend time during the hottest part of the day in cooler buildings, such as the library, civic or senior center or shopping mall.

* Limit unnecessary travel. Vehicles without a working air-conditioner pose the most concern, but any traveler can be caught unexpectedly with a breakdown. Carry water in the car or truck.

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