It’s hot, y’all: A Southerner’s guide to heat safety

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Like it or not, hot season is here. Please join us in welcoming it with your favorite classic cliché:

“Hot enough for ya’?”

“You could fry an egg on the sidewalk.”

“It’s hotter than H-E double hockey sticks out there.”

“If it gets any hotter, I’ll have to take off stuff I really ought to keep on.”

We usually say these things with a chuckle, then go on about our day. Heat, after all, is just part of the Southern way of life. However, it’s good to be mindful of the impact our extreme temperatures and high humidity can have on our health if we’re not careful.

Heat-related illnesses

Heat-related illnesses occur when the body is no longer able to control its own temperature. They can strike anyone no matter their age or health, although young children and people 65 and older are especially at risk. As summer approaches, it’s important to recognize the types and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and to take steps to avoid them.

Heat cramps

Heat cramps are muscle spasms associated with high temperatures and strenuous activity. They often occur in the arms, legs, or abdomen, and can be relieved by applying firm pressure or gently massaging the muscles involved. Taking sips of water every 15 minutes over the course of an hour can also help.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures, combined with inadequate fluids.

Heat exhaustion often strikes the elderly, persons with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising out in the heat. Warning signs include:

  • Muscle Cramps
  • Heavy Sweating
  • Tiredness or Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Fainting

Left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. If you are suffering from heat exhaustion, immediately stop all activity and find a cool place to rest. Drink cool water or a sports drink with electrolytes. (Sorry, cold beer is not an option for treating this or any other heat-related illness.) If cramps do not stop in an hour, seek medical attention.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke, the most serious heat-related illness, can cause death or permanent disability without emergency treatment. Warning signs include:

  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees F)
  • Red, hot and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

If someone is suffering from heat stroke, call 911 and try to cool the victim down as quickly as possible. Put them in a shady area, or try to cool them down by placing them in a tub or shower with cool water. Use the garden hose if nothing else is available. They will likely be unconscious and unable to safely consume any liquids.

Prevention

The key to avoiding heat-related illnesses is to avoid the heat. If you have to be out in it, the following tips can help you keep your cool:

  • If you have to engage in strenuous outdoor work or exercise, try to avoid doing so during the hottest part of the day.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Remember, beverages containing alcohol are not recommended for purposes of avoiding heat-related illnesses. Same goes for drinks with caffeine!
  • Use a wide-brimmed hat, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes, and sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) to protect yourself from the sun. Also, do your best to stay in the shade.

Resources

CDC Heat Illnesses (wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/heat-illnesses)