Beat the summer heat: Be informed and take precautions

Heat-related illnesses can quickly become serious

August 8, 2018

VANCOUVER, Wash. – During summertime in the Pacific Northwest, it’s easy to get caught up in the warm weather glow and forget about the very real dangers that can come along with the season.

In July and August, the National Weather Service issued a number of excessive heat-related watches, warnings and advisories as temperatures soared toward and even surpassed 100 degrees.

As folks spend more time outdoors they also seek more medical care related to exposure to heat, and PeaceHealth sees an increase in emergency room and clinic visits in all of our communities for illnesses including heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn and heat rash.

“These kinds of record-high temperatures aren’t something people in the Northwest are used to dealing with on a regular basis. They often forget to protect themselves or don’t recognize the symptoms when they are experiencing a heat-related illness,” said Robin Virgin, MD, a PeaceHealth Medical Group physician. “It’s so important to be informed and take precautions because conditions such as heat stroke can be life-threatening.”

Signs of heat exhaustion include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin; heavy sweating; and headache, nausea, dizziness and weakness.  A person experiencing these symptoms should move to a cooler place; drink small amounts of water; remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin. If the person refuses water, vomits or begins to lose consciousness, call 9-1-1.

Signs of heat stroke include headache; hot, red skin; changes in consciousness; vomiting; and lack of sweating, despite heat. Call 9-1-1 immediately if someone shows signs of heat stroke. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the person’s body by immersing them up to their neck in a tub of cool water, spraying them with cold water, or covering the person with cold, wet towels or cloths.

To prevent heat-related illnesses, in alignment with the American Red Cross, PeaceHealth recommends the following safety tips:

1. Hot cars can be deadly and children or pets should never be left in a vehicle. The inside temperature of the car can quickly reach 120 degrees.

2. Stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking plenty of fluids. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol. However, don't drink large amounts of plain water all at once—this can lead to water-toxicity.

3. Check on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air conditioning, who spend much of their time alone or who are more likely to be affected by the heat.

4. If someone doesn’t have air conditioning, they should seek relief from the heat during the warmest part of the day in places like schools, libraries, theaters, malls, etc.

5. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays.

6. Slow down, stay indoors and avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest part of the day.

7. Use a buddy system when working in excessive heat. Take frequent breaks if working outdoors.

8. Check on animals frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat. Make sure they have plenty of cool water.

For more information about heat-related illnesses, please visit www.peacehealth.org/medical-topics/id/htske.

About PeaceHealth: PeaceHealth, based in Vancouver, Wash., is a not-for-profit Catholic health system offering care to communities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. PeaceHealth has approximately 16,000 caregivers, a group practice with more than 900 providers and 10 medical centers serving both urban and rural communities throughout the Northwest. In 1890, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace founded what has become PeaceHealth. The Sisters shared expertise and transferred wisdom from one medical center to another, always finding the best way to serve the unmet need for healthcare in their communities. Today, PeaceHealth is the legacy of the founding Sisters and continues with a spirit of respect, stewardship, collaboration and social justice in fulfilling its Mission.

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