After being a bit cranky about the cool and cloudy spring that lasted through most of June, I’m now on the other end of the grouchy scale of hot and humid.
I know this is coming, and I wouldn’t go near a swimming pool with out this H & H weather, but it sure is uncomfortable. Besides being sticky and sweaty, we (so far) have avoided a heat wave. The Southwest and extreme South of this country have experienced the intensity of a heat wave this summer. The last week of April saw temperatures equal to those typically seen in late July and August hit Portugal, Morocco, Spain and Algeria; populations there were unprepared for the extreme heat so early in the season and unprepared with cooling equipment or fans.
People have died already from this heat. Last year, Europe had 61,000 people succumb due to heat related conditions many of them elderly. Along with the changing climate, we are in a weather phase called “El Niño,” the first time in four years. This weather phenomenon means that the ocean’s surfaces will warm to an above average temperature in the central and eastern parts of the Pacific Ocean. The potential exists for the normal easterly winds to change directions and blow to the west. This typically disrupts what we think of as “normal” weather patterns here in the United States.
And, since we really have zero control over the weather, the only thing we can and must do is understand the seriousness and learn the symptoms of heat health issues.
First off, understand that the best thing you can do for yourself, for others working outside, for elderly folks and young kids is to ensure that they are properly hydrated. Elderly people for sure have fewer sweat glands and therefore do not perspire as much as younger people.
The purpose of perspiration: the body brings this fluid to the surface, and air flows across the skin, causing the skin surface to cool. In the meantime, the body circulates the warm blood to the surface allowing the cooler air to drop the temperature. If the air is too warm or too humid, the sweat cannot evaporate, the blood does not cool, and a person can begin to overheat. When a person does sweat, the sweat also releases electrolytes and fluid volume that need to be replaced.
So things you should do:
- When feeling hot, get out of the sun, find a cool place to rest, drink more water than normal and avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugary drinks as they can dehydrate.
- Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing if outside, use sunblock and wear a hat.
- Avoid the hottest part of the day if working outside, if possible (11 a.m.-3 p.m.)
The heat can really cause serious health issues so be aware of the symptoms.
Heat rash is the most minor of all… a red bumpy rash, usually in young kids in areas where sweat cannot evaporate, like neck areas, skin folds, etc. Dry the area, and a drying powder may help with irritation.
Heat cramps: muscle pain caused by overworking in hot temperatures; usually cramping is caused by the loss of too much salts and fluids. Relive by stopping the activity, move to a cool place, drink clear fluids or sports beverages (like Gatorade) and stay still until cramps stop. If the cramping lasts more than an hour, seek medical care.
Heat exhaustion: heavy sweating, cramping, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, fainting. Stop activity, move to cool place, possibly cool body in shower, drink cool fluids, rest several hours. Again, if persistent, seek medical help.
Heat stroke: the body cannot cool itself, very serious. Seek immediate medical care. Symptoms include body temperature of over 103, hot skin with no sweating, fast pulse, confusion, unconsciousness, nausea.
Be aware for yourself, your co-workers, and your family. And remember, don’t leave kids or dogs in cars this summer.
Nan Kirlin is the recycling coordinator for Gaston County