June 20, 2003
Methodist doctors urge Mississippians to protect themselves from summer heat
By Lisa Uzzle Gates
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Joey Hawkins likes to see his football players working hard but he knows even the toughest athletes have limits in the heat of Mississippi summers.
Hawkins, head football and track coach at Jackson Academy, and his staff make sure players get plenty of fluids, starting the night before a practice and all during the day. They watch for signs of heat exhaustion and on extremely hot days they take breaks every 15 to 20 minutes.
“Since the late 1980s the coaches have gotten a lot of education about what to do and what not to do, and the warning signs to look for,” Hawkins said. “We’ve been very fortunate, we’ve never really had any problems with it.”
Physicians at Methodist Rehabilitation Center agree with Hawkins’ cautious approach and remind all Mississippians to limit their exposure to intense summer heat.
“Exposure to extreme heat can be dangerous and potentially life threatening”, said Dr. Rahul Vohra, medical director at Methodist Rehab. “There are several heat-related illnesses that can occur, such as sunburn, cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and even death.”
- Sunburn causes redness and pain in the area burned. Blisters, swelling, fever, nausea, vomiting and headaches can occur.
- Heat cramps are usually severe cramps in the leg and abdomen area, accompanied by heavy sweating.
- Heat exhaustion causes weakness and lightheadedness, heavy sweating, vomiting and fainting. Skin appears cold, clammy and pale.
- Heat stroke is the most dangerous and life threatening heat illness. It causes body temperature to rise over 106 degrees. Skin appears dry and red and a person’s pulse will be fast. Victims may be disoriented, combative and argumentative. Heat stroke can quickly lead to unconsciousness and death.
Dr. Vohra recommends always wearing light colored and loose fitting clothing, staying indoors during extreme heat and to never ignore the signs of heat stroke.
“A heat stroke occurs when a person’s body temperature rises. In an effort to lower the body temperature, the brain dilates all blood vessels in the skin, “ said Dr. Vohra. “The skin usually appears red, hot and dry from dehydration.“
Dr. Vohra recommends cooling the victim as quickly as possible and taking them to a hospital. “Place a cool cloth or ice pack on the victim’s head and neck and begin massaging their extremities,” said Dr. Vohra. “Place ice on head and neck area first, followed by the armpits and groin.”
Along with taking care of themselves, parents and caregivers need to take extra precautions with young children and animals, said Lauren Fairburn, director of Think First, Methodist Rehab’s statewide safety and injury prevention program.
“Leaving a child in a car, even for a few minutes, can turn into a deadly situation,” said Fairburn. She says that temperatures inside a car escalate quickly and children and pets can die in a short period of time.
“Even if the windows are rolled down and the outside temperature is 83 degrees, the temperature inside the car can reach 109 degrees Fahrenheit in approximately 15 minutes,” said Fairburn.
Dr. Vohra’s offers the following tips for staying safe during summer heat:
- Stay in a cool, well-ventilated area as much as possible during extreme heat.
- Check on the elderly often to make sure they have proper cooling systems, food and water.
- Avoid strenuous activities like running, biking and outside work during the hottest time of the day.
- Do not stay or leave anyone in closed, parked cars during hot weather.
- Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
- Do not drink alcohol or beverages with caffeine.
- Never bundle a baby in blankets or heavy clothing when outside in the heat. Infants sweat glands are not well developed and do not tolerate heat well.