COLUMBIA — The heat wave over the past couple of days has been undeniably annoying, but if you're not careful, the hot weather can become more than just unpleasant.
Along with dehydration, other heat-related medical conditions include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which could be potentially life threatening.
If you are stuck in the heat for long periods of time, pay attention to your body; these signs and symptoms from the American Red Cross could be indicators of a serious health problem.
- Muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion
- Heat cramps can be an early signal that the body is having trouble with the heat
- Cool, moist, pale flushed or red skin
- Heavy sweating
- Nausea or vomiting
- Body temperature near normal
- Hot, red and dry skin
- Loss of consciousness, trouble staying conscious
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Rapid, shallow breathing
What to do:
Heat cramps or heat exhaustion:
- Go to a cooler place and rest in a comfortable position.
- If fully awake and alert, drink half a glass of cool water every 15 minutes; do not let drink too quickly.
- Do not drink liquids that contain alcohol or caffeine.
- Remove or loosen tight clothing.
- Apply cool, wet cloths, such as towels or sheets.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number if there is an aversion to water, vomiting or loss of consciousness.
- Heat stroke is a life-threatening situation. Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- Move to a cooler place.
- Quickly cool the body by taking a cool bath or wrapping wet sheets around the body.
- Be aware of breathing problems.
- Do not eat or drink anything if there is an aversion to water or vomiting or if there are changes in the level of consciousness.
To protect yourself in the heat, make sure to follow these Red Cross Heat Safety Tips:
- Dress appropriately. Wear light-colored clothing in light, breathable fabrics.
- Hydrate yourself. Drink water continuously throughout the day, even if you do not feel thirsty. Also, avoid alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate the body.
- Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid high-protein foods, which increase metabolic heat.
- Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity, do so during the coolest part of the day, usually between 4 and 7 a.m.
- Be a good neighbor. Check on elderly relatives, friends and neighbors or those you know who do not have air conditioning.
- Stay indoors when possible. If air-conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine. Remember that fans do not cool, they simply circulate the air. Check the Missourian’s list of cool places if you need an escape from the heat.
Boone Hospital reported two patients arriving to the emergency room with signs of dehydration. John Mruzik, a doctor at Boone Convenient Care Clinic, recommended people stay out of the sun and heat as much as possible and keep themselves constantly hydrated.
“The worst thing you can do is go for alcohol,” Mruzik said.
He explained how alcohol is dangerous because it dehydrates the body. Mruzik also said sugar in sports drinks and soda can cause dehydration.
If you must be in the heat and sun for an extended period of time, Mruzik said, take frequent rest breaks and always have an “escape place” that provides shade or air conditioning.
It is also important to practice safe sun exposure by wearing a hat and applying sunscreen. Keeping a constant supply of water nearby is essential, and don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink, he said.
A program's cool efforts
Not everyone has access to air conditioning or working fans, so the Voluntary Action Center is providing low-income families in Boone County with box fans through its Summer Fan Program.
Cindy Mustard, the center's executive director, has labeled the program a success.
Although the center struggled to keep up with demand in May, it has since been able to provide a fan for everybody who qualifies. The center gives preference to pregnant women, families with small children, elderly people and those with disabilities.
“We are still getting daily requests,” Mustard said. “Demand starts in early May, and it stays pretty constant.”
Donations have also remained consistent throughout summer, with a youth group making a significant donation just this week.
With the weather remaining hot, Mustard predicts the demand will continue.
“Last year, we gave away 215 fans,” she said.
The program, which is in its 22nd year, has given away about 200 fans so far this summer.
The center is still accepting donations and has drop-off points at Lowe’s and Sam’s Club.