The heat is on: Doctors warn of summer and heat-related illnesses

Published 9:48 pm Friday, June 12, 2009

With the arrival of summer also comes pool parties, suntans, cookouts and longer days.

However, the Alabama summer also brings intense heat, which can be harmful to your health.

One of the most common heat-related conditions is heat exhaustion.

“We see that from people working outside or exercising outside,” Robyn Cobb, director of the emergency department at Chilton Medical Center, said.

Cobb said heat exhaustion happens when people do not take enough breaks or drink enough fluids, and can cause nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and dizziness.

Under some conditions, cases of heatstroke may arise. Cobb said heatstroke is a form of hypothermia-abnormal body temperature. The symptoms of heatstroke include the absence of sweating, a rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, strange behavior, disorientation, confusion and in extreme cases, seizures.

To help prevent heat exhaustion and heatstroke, Cobb offered a few tips.

“Rest in cool, shaded areas if you’re outside a lot during the day,” Cobb said. She also said to consume cool fluids.

“If you sweat a lot you’re going to lose a lot of salt out of your body. You need to replace it.”

Cobb said what you wear can also affect your condition.

“You need to make sure you wear loose clothing when you’re outside,” Cobb said.

Cobb said in extreme cases, people should avoid drinks containing alcohol or caffeine, as they can aid dehydration.

“Stick to water and the sports drinks,” Cobb said.

If someone seems to be suffering from a heat-related illness, you should move them to a cool place and loosen their clothing. Dousing them with water or applying ice packs to their armpits or groin can also help to cool them, according to Cobb.

Cobb said when high school athletics get rolling at the end of the summer, they need to be reminded of the basic ways to combat heat-related illnesses.

“Hydration is just a big issue,” Cobb said.

Hydration is important to all those spending a significant time outside during the summer, whether for work or for play.

The Alabama Department of Transportation realizes the importance of keeping their workers hydrated.

“We just make sure they have a lot of water and Gatorade and make sure they have breaks during the day,” Darren Crocker, ALDOT District 4 transportation maintenance superintendent, said.

Crocker said the workers are given two 15-minute breaks and an hour-long lunch break each day.

Crocker also said ALDOT does not adjust working hours during the summer.

“We have the same shift all the time,” Crocker said.

If a worker exhibits signs of a heat-related illness, Crocker said they will take them to the emergency room.

So whether you are at work or at play, keeping an eye on the temperature can be helpful. But you must also be aware of the humidity.

Humidity can cause a person to overheat faster because it hampers the efficiency of the sweating process-the body’s natural cooling system.

The heat index, also known as the “apparent temperature,” is a temperature derived from an equation that adds the relative humidity to the actual temperature.

Certain ranges of temperatures on the heat index correlate with possible heat-related illnesses.