Out In The Sun? Beware The Hidden Dangers Of Heat Stress

It’s summertime — the season of cookouts, swimming pools and outdoor fun. But along with these activities come the dangers of extreme heat, and heat stress can be deadly. While the dangers of leaving children and animals in superheated cars are well known, lesser known is the effect of spending too much time in Florida’s summertime heat without proper precautions.

Many longtime residents are aware of this, given the daily intense sunlight that beams down on the state during the summer months, and the pea-soup fog created with every afternoon thunderstorm hitting the sizzling pavement.

But being “aware” and actually taking precautions are not the same thing. During the past month, there have been numerous cases of heat stroke, heat exposure or heat exhaustion reported every day at Palm Beach County’s hospitals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, extreme heat causes an average of 675 deaths annually in the United States, which is usually more than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined.

“Every day, someone in Palm Beach County has reported a form of heat-related illness,” said Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County. “I would like to remind everyone to slow down, cool down and drink plenty of fluids. Recognizing the signs of heat illness and taking the necessary preventive measure can keep a person well and out of the hospital.”

According to Alonso, heat injury can develop after exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.

Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat injury and is considered a medical emergency. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat and it is unable to cool down. Heat stroke can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided. If you suspect that someone has heat stroke — also known as sunstroke — call 911 immediately and give first aid until paramedics arrive.

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.

There are several ways to avoid becoming a victim of heat stress this summer.

First, be aware of the common signs and symptoms associated with heat stress. These include sweating profusely, chills, weakness, fainting, confusion, dizziness, elevated body temperature and vomiting. If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention.

Second, stay informed by checking the local weather throughout the day for updates, and plan events and activities before or after extremely hot periods. Along with the regular radio and television broadcasts, weather updates can be found online and sent to you via a number of mobile apps.

Third, stay hydrated. Do not wait until you’re thirsty to drink fluids. When out in the sun, drink two to four cups of water every hour and avoid drinks with alcohol or a high sugar content.

Last, but not least, stay cool by remaining in air conditioned buildings during the hottest periods of the day, avoid direct sunlight, wear lightweight or light-colored clothing, and take cool showers or baths.

Enjoy those cookouts and days at the beach, but be safe out there! More tips and information can be obtained by visiting www.flhealthpalmbeach.org.