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Know the warning signs of heat-related illnesses

People who’ve lived in North Carolina all their lives are used to the hot summer temperatures combined with humidity which is sometimes so high it feels like we’re swimming through the air outside. People who’ve moved here more recently have to quickly learn to adjust to the weather during the summer months.

Summer is my favorite time of year because I much prefer being warm to being cold, but sometimes the heat is too much even for me. I’ve gotten into the habit of walking outside for exercise and recently I’ve had to wait until sundown for the temperature to get bearable. Even then, it’s still too hot!

But many of us are still enjoying the outdoors when we can. Maybe we’re out picking vegetables from the garden or pulling up weeds in the flower beds. Maybe we’re enjoying an afternoon of fishing on the river. Maybe we’re driving down to the beach to spend some time sticking our toes in the sand (from a safe social distance from other beachgoers hopefully). Maybe we’re out practicing our favorite sport. Maybe we’re just sitting on the porch to watch the sunset.

Whatever we’re doing outside in this hot weather, however, we should remember to not get overheated. This is the time of year when we’re most susceptible to heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. I always forget the difference between the two, so I looked up some info about both from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Here are the warning signs to look for and actions to take if someone is suffering from one or the other:

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, cold and pale and clammy skin, fast or weak pulse, nausea or vomiting, muscle cramps, tiredness or weakness, dizziness, headache, and fainting (passing out). None of that sounds particularly fun to deal with, so it should be taken seriously if you start to experience the symptoms.

Things to do to combat heat exhaustion include moving to a cool place, loosening your clothes, putting cool, wet cloths on your body or taking a cool bath, and sipping water. If you’re throwing up or symptoms are worsening and lasting longer than an hour, get medical help right away.

For the more serious heat stroke, symptoms include high body temperature (103 degrees or higher), hot or red or dry or damp skin (no sweating), fast and strong pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and losing consciousness (passing out).

The CDC says you should call 911 right away if someone is experiencing heat stroke. You should also move the person to a cooler place and help lower the person’s temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath. Do not give the person anything to drink.

Anyone is at-risk of suffering from heat-related illness but those with the greatest risk include infants and children up to four years old, people older than 65, people who are overweight, and people who are ill or taking certain medications.

The CDC also provides some recommendations on things to do to avoid suffering either illness.

Stay cool by wearing appropriate clothing, such as lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothes. Stay in the air conditioning as much as possible. If you don’t have AC in your home, they recommend spending a few hours in an air-conditioned place such as a shopping mall or a public library. (Many places are reopened now despite the COVID-19 pandemic, so please take proper precautions if you’re in a crowded public place.)

Pace yourself, especially when spending extended time outdoors or exercising in the heat. Rest often in shady areas when possible. Wear sunscreen to protect from sunburn which can also negatively affect your body’s ability to cool down.

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. But you should also avoid very sugary or alcoholic drinks which won’t help, and very cold drinks can cause stomach cramps.

Lastly, use the buddy system. Work outside with one or more people. Check on your elderly neighbors who are at greater risk. You can be around to help someone if they suffer a heat-related illness and they’ll be around to help if you are the one affected. As noted earlier, heat stroke requires medical attention and severe cases of heat exhaustion do as well. So it’s a good idea to know what to look for and be ready to help if necessary.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/index.html

I hope we all get to enjoy the rest of the summer in a happy and healthy way!

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.