2010-06-17 / Front Page

Several days of heat can be dangerous, especially to the ill, young, elderly

Medics warn of real health dangers after a few days of 100-plus degree heat. Medics warn of real health dangers after a few days of 100-plus degree heat. Although the county medical services have not yet had any heat-related calls during the current heat wave, Wilkes County EMS Director Blake Thompson says he’s concerned that several days of this heat could put some of the county’s most vulnerable people in danger.

“We generally expect more cases after the third or fourth day of bad heat,” he said, “especially among people with health problems, the elderly, and the young.”

EMS Operations Director Tina Bailey said that motocross racers at Aonia this past weekend even managed to stay out of trouble, at least from heat injury. “They stayed in their cool RVs until time to race,” she said. “So we didn’t have any racers with heat problems. But we were out there working in the heat all weekend, and it was tough. We had to work to keep hydrated ourselves.”

There are several things people can do to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke before it starts, Thompson said.

“You can avoid heat illness by wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, resting often, and getting in the shade or indoors whenever it’s possible,” he said. “Try to avoid exercise or any kind of strenuous physical activity outside during hot, humid weather. Drink plenty of fluids, but not alcohol.”

Thompson warns to watch for the early symptoms of heat illness so people can get help before they get ill.

“The early signs are profuse sweating, fatigue, thirst, and muscle cramps with excessive breathing and rapid pulse rate,” he said. “If you don’t get cooled off at that point, you may move into the next stage of heat exhaustion. The later symptoms of heat exhaustion are a headache, dizziness and lightheadedness, weakness, and nausea and vomiting. Your skin feels cool and moist, and urine is dark.”

Without treatment, heat illness can progress into a life-threatening heat stroke. “The symptoms of heat stroke,” Thompson said, “include fever above 104 degrees, irrational behavior, and extreme confusion. The person with heat stroke will have dry, hot, and red skin, rapid, shallow breathing, and a rapid, weak pulse. They may have seizures and lapse into unconsciousness.”

But when do you call for help? “Call 911 immediately for medical assistance if the person loses consciousness at any time, or if there is any change in their mental status from alertness to confusion or seizures. Call if they have a fever over 102 degrees or if their condition doesn’t improve.”

When you see the first signs of heat illness in someone, he said, they need immediate first aid. “Have the person lie down in the coolest place you can find and elevate their feet about 12 inches. Apply cool, wet cloths – or cool water directly to the person’s skin, and use a fan if available to lower body temperature. Place cold compresses to the person’s neck, groin and armpits.”

If the person is alert, he said, you can give them sips of beverages such as Gatorade, water, or make a salted drink by adding a teaspoon of salt per quart of water. Have them drink at least half a cup every 15 minutes.

For more information on heat illness, call Wilkes County EMS at 706-678- 7837.

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