BY O'FALLON MAYOR GARY GRAHAM
Summertime in the Midwest is typically a time for fun in the sun for many families. It is also the time of year when the temperature and humidity rises to very high levels, which increases the chance that people will experience heat-related illnesses. This week’s column will explain the types of heat-related illnesses and provide you with ways to prevent them.
According to the American Red Cross, the body cools itself by letting heat escape through the skin and by evaporating perspiration. If the body is unable to cool itself properly, a person may suffer a heat-related illness. Anyone can be susceptible, but the very young and the very old are at the highest risk. Heat-related illnesses can become serious or even fatal if unattended.
In order to avoid heat-related illnesses it is important to know the meaning of key heat-related terms:
Heat Wave – When more than 48 hours of high heat (90 degrees or higher) and high humidity (80 percent relative humidity or higher) are expected.
Heat Index – The number in degrees Fahrenheit that tells how hot it really feels with the heat and humidity. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15 degrees.
Heat Cramps – Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. They usually involve the abdominal muscles or the legs. It is generally thought that the loss of water and salt from heavy sweating causes the cramps.
Heat Exhaustion – Heat exhaustion is less dangerous than heat stroke. It typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a warm, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Fluid loss causes blood flow to decrease in the vital organs, resulting in a form of shock. With heat exhaustion, sweat does not evaporate as it should, possibly because of high humidity or too many layers of clothing. As a result, the body is not cooled properly. Signals include cool, moist, pale, flushed or red skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature will be near normal.
Heat Stroke – Also known as sunstroke, heat stroke is life-threatening. The victim’s temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Signals include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be very high – sometimes as high as 105 degrees.
You can avoid heat-related illnesses by practicing the following safety tips:
Dress for the heat – Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun’s energy. It is also a good idea to wear hats or to use an umbrella.
Drink water – Carry water or juice with you and drink continuously even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate the body.
Eat small meals and eat more often – Avoid foods that are high in protein which increases metabolic heat.
Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
Slow down – Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning from 4 – 7 a.m.
Stay indoors when possible – If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor, out of the sunshine. Try to go to a public building with air conditioning each day for several hours. Our Public Safety Facility at 285 N. Seven Hills Road serves as a cooling center and is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Remember, electric fans do not cool the air, but they do help sweat evaporate, which cools your body.
Take regular breaks when engaged in physical activity on warm days. Take time out to find a cool place. If you recognize that you, or someone else, are showing the signals of a heat-related illness, stop activity and find a cool place.
The health and safety of our residents and their loved ones is very important to me and by working together we can make sure that everyone remains safe this summer. The strong working relationship between City Hall and the residents we serve is yet another example of why O’Fallon is such a great community in which to live.