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Beat The Heat

During the summer, temperatures can rise and cause extremely hot conditions here in Iowa. As a result, heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps and heat rashes can occur if proper precautions are not taken.

According to the Centers for Dis­ease Control and Prevention, more people die from heat-re­lated illnesses than hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, lightning and floods combined.

Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, medical dir­ector of the Iowa Department of Public Health, points out sym­ptoms of these heat-related ill­­nesses and explains what pre­ventative measures you can take to stay safe in the heat of summer.

“They key is to drink plenty of water and know when you need to take a break,” said Quinlisk. “When you start to feel really thirsty, you are already dehydrated, and we want to prevent that from happening in the first place by taking in plenty of fluids.”

You may be dehydrated if you have excessive thirst, dizziness or are light headed, and if your urine is a dark yellow or brown color. When your body is dehydrated, it needs water, salts and potassium. Quinlisk recommends drinking a lot of water, not relying on sports drinks alone. Drinking a sports drink in addition to water is OK, but you must drink water.

“Drinking water and eating a piece of fruit, such as a banana or apple, is better than just drinking sports drinks,” said Quinlisk. “Many sports drinks contain a lot of sugar and don’t even have the sodium and potassium that your body needs.”

Besides hydrating your body, Quin­lisk advises that you wear light-colored clothing while outside, and not black because the dark color will absorb the heat from the sun. Wearing material that is light and loose fitting for air circulation will also help keep you cool.

“A cotton shirt is fine if you’re working or exercising outside, but once it’s wet, it stays wet for a long time,” said Quinlisk. “I recommend wearing clothing made of wicking material to help keep yourself cool and dry.”

If you’re going to be working outside in the sun a lot this summer, wear a hat and always carry fluids with you. Make sure to apply sunscreen, especially on the tips of your ears and the back of the neck, which are areas that are typically forgotten. Working outdoors in the morning or evening when temperatures are cool is better than doing strenuous work in the middle of the afternoon when the sun is strongest.

“Some occupations, such as farming, may require you to work outside during the hottest part of the day,” said Quinlisk. “My advice is to take a five minute break for every hour you are outside.”

If you’re going to be by yourself for a long period of time on a hot day, have your cell phone with you in case you start to feel ill, and have someone check in on you every couple of hours. Signs that you need to seek medical attention are if you start getting confused, stop sweating, turn red or are nauseous and can’t keep fluids down.

“Some people don’t recognize these symptoms in themselves, so others around them should pay attention to the signs,” said Quinlisk. “If the kids are running around in the heat and they’re sweating a lot, maybe getting a little red in the face, tell them to sit down for a while and take a break. Then they can go back and play.”

It is also important to remember to never, ever leave a child or pet in the car unattended. Even when temperatures outside are mild, an enclosed car with the windows up can get very hot in a short amount of time.

If you start to notice signs or symptoms of a heat-related illness such as dizziness, nausea, high body temperature, confusion, muscle cramps or weakness and fatigue while working in hot conditions, stop what you are going, get to a shaded area to cool yourself down and seek medical attention if necessary.

To cool yourself down, get in the shade, drink cool water, sit in front of a fan or air conditioned room, or take a cool shower. There are large arteries in your neck that lead up to your head, so putting a cold pack or cloth around your neck will also help to cool you down.

“Remember that it is all about prevention,” said Quinlisk. “It’s about recognizing the symptoms, and stopping to take care of yourself way before you get to the point where you’d need medical attention.”

Those more susceptible to heat-related illnesses include elderly adults 65 years of age or older, children, people with mental illnesses, those who are physically ill, especially those with heart disease, and people on prescription drugs that may cause sensitivity to the sun or have side effects.

“We have a high population of older people living in Iowa,” said Quinlisk. “If you know someone who is elderly, especially if they live alone, check on them and make sure their air conditioning is working during a heat wave.”

Korthaus is a freelance writer from Udell.