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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

It’s a Scorcher Out There: Know the Signs of Heat Exhaustion and Stroke

Know the warning signs of heat-related illnesses.
(Img: National Weather Service)

by Robin Gee

Hot weather in July in our area is typical. In fact, the average high temperature for July in Fort Thomas is 86 degrees. Yet, temperatures this month have been above average with Sunday’s high temp reaching 93 degrees and a "feels like" temperature soaring into triple digits.

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This coming week forecasts predict more of the same with highs above average and humidity driving the heat index ever higher. The heat index is a combination of air temperature and dew point – dew points over 70 can make the humidity in the air feel downright oppressive.

The human body normally cools itself by perspiration, or sweating, which evaporates and carries heat away from the body. However, when the relative humidity is high the evaporation rate is reduced, so heat is removed from the body at a lower rate causing it to retain more heat than it would in dry air, according to weather experts.

Overall, more than 600 people in the U.S. die each year due to heat-related illnesses according to the Centers for Disease Control. With more of us getting outside as way to break up the isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, more people may be at risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion, the warning signs

Your body will send out signals as it is begins to have difficulty coping with the heat. The first of these warning signs may be heat rash. When sweat doesn’t properly evaporate from the skin, it can cause irritation and a rash.

Heat cramps are another warning sign. They can occur if a tired or overworked muscle becomes dangerously dehydrated. The affected muscle loses electrolytes (such as salt) and may begin to seize up in pain.

For heat exhaustion, a person may start to feel faint or dizzy. They may sweat excessively and their skin may become cool, pale or clammy. Their pulse could be rapid but week, and they may experience muscle cramps. If you experience any of these symptoms, try to get to a place with cooler air, a place with air conditioning if possible.

Under current COVID restrictions, this may not be as easy as it once was. Many malls, libraries and other public buildings that offered air conditioned respite may not be open. It is, therefore, good to have a plan ahead of time should you need it.

Those experiencing these symptoms are also advised to drink cold water if they are fully conscious and to take a cool shower or apply cold compresses.

Heat stroke, a heat emergency

Heat stroke is an even more dangerous situation. Symptoms include a throbbing headache, confusion, a lack of sweating, nausea or vomiting, a rapid and strong pulse. The person’s body temperature may rise above 103 degrees and skin will be red, hot and dry. They may lose consciousness.

The first step if someone appears to be suffering from heat stroke is to call 911. If you can, move the person to a cooler place and try using cool cloths or a cool bath, but do not give the person anything to drink.

For more on the warning signs of heat-related illnesses, prevention tips and what to do, see the University of Kentucky Heat Awareness Webpage.

Here are some prevention tips from that website:

  • Hydrate properly the night before you plan to go out, avoiding alcohol and caffeine
  • Wear light, breathable clothing
  • Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you are not thirsty
  • Eat foods high in water content, such as watermelon, lettuce and cucumbers
  • Take frequent rest breaks in shade or air-conditioned rooms
  • Wear sunscreen to protect your skin
  • Listen to your body, and watch out for symptoms of heat stress in yourself and those around you

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