Got any ideas on how to beat the heat?
by W. Brian Hale
Jul 09, 2010 | 1257 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Construction worker Joe Mitchell reached up to wipe the sweat off his brow and get a drink of water during a break Friday afternoon as the near 100 degree heat cooked the air around him. For Mitchell and his fellow workers, Brian Davis and Trae Tittle, battling the outdoor summer heat means taking special steps and extreme care as they work around the Community Health Systems Activities Center in downtown Jasper.

“It’s tough,” Davis said. “We have to be really careful with the heat. You have to drink a lot of liquids, take frequent breaks and also make sure you have some Gatorade in you. It’s just about all you can do in this heat.”

With near-record breaking heat touching areas all over the country, heat-related illness is on the rise as well. As residents take to the outdoors for normal summer activities, health officials say they should be aware of the dangers present that lie in the severe heat.

“Working or playing in sweltering temperatures can result in heat exhaustion or heat stroke as the body loses fluids and overheats,” said family practice physician Ty Blackwell, M.D., with Prestige Family Medicine, at Walker Baptist Medical Center. “It can happen even without exertion if a person is in a hot environment and unable to cool themselves effectively. Babies, older adults and people with chronic health problems are at greatest risk for this type of heatstroke.”

According to Dr. Blackwell, sweating is a protective mechanism for the body to cool itself, but excessive sweating should suggest to an individual that rest, shelter from the heat and fluid intake is needed to replace losses. If a person has been exerting themselves physically or simply exposed to prolonged heat and stops sweating, this is a very serious sign of dehydration and that person should seek medical attention immediately.

The symptoms can differ among individuals, but often include pale with cool, moist skin, profuse sweating, muscle cramps, headache, weakness, rapid heart beat or breathing, thirst, nausea, dizziness, confusion and hallucinations. As the condition worsens, skin may become red, hot and dry or the person may faint.

“If this happens, call 911 immediately. Heat stroke can cause permanent damage to the brain or organs, even death,” Blackwell cautioned. “Until medical help arrives, get person to a cool area, cool the person with wet compresses, a cool shower or wrap in a wet sheet and fan them. If conscious, give them cool fluids, preferably water.”

Blackwell also suggested the following steps to help prevent heat-related illness: taking frequent breaks in a cool place, drinking plenty of fluids during activities —avoiding those with alcohol or caffeine, scheduling strenuous activities for cooler times of the day and checking on the elderly and infants often who may be in excessively hot surroundings.

Dr. Candice Terry, also of Prestige Family Health, also relays the importance of water during the summer months.

“There’s a place for water on the baseball field and the backyard, even on the dinner table,” Terry said. “Water helps regulate body temperature, carries nutrients and oxygen, removes waste, cushions joints and protects organs and tissue. Obviously, it’s essential to old, young and everyone in between.”

“Working or playing in our hot, humid Southern summers can easily lead to dehydration,” Terry said. “So drinking enough fluids is important. The body can already be in distress with the onset of dehydration’s early symptoms – faintness and muscle cramps.”

Terry would also say that what Americans are drinking during their attempts to stay hydrated is often as important as the act itself.

“On average, we consume far too many calories, and about a fifth of these calories come from things we drink,” she said. “The worst offenders are sugar-sweetened soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks and sugary tea and coffee drinks. With so many choices, it’s important to think before we drink.”

Whether the destination is the baseball field or the vegetable garden, Dr. Terry recommends drinking fluids to be well-hydrated before the activity.

“Water is fine and zero calories,” she said.

Particularly for young athletes, Terry suggests a “fluid schedule” with a certain amount of fluids before, during and after practice and games. Experts recommend five ounces of cold tap water or a flavored beverage every 20 minutes for an 88-pound child. At 132 pounds, it’s nine ounces every 20 minutes.

Terry cites whole milk (except for very young children), sweetened soft drinks, sports drinks and fruit drinks as well as sugar sweetened tea and coffee drinks as beverages to limit during summer time hydration.

“These are high calorie beverages —some even promote dehydration,” Terry said. “Water as well as flavored waters offer healthier options. Depending on the intensity of the activity, a carefully selected sports drink may be appropriate.”