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The heat goes on

Published July 05. 2012 05:00PM

As the area continues to bake under a prolonged heat wave, medical experts urge people to use common sense and take precautions to avoid heat-related illness.

The National Weather Service is forecasting temperatures to continue in the 90s today and Friday, perhaps reaching as high as 96 degrees on Saturday. Temperatures are expected to drop into the 80s on Sunday, and hover there for at least a few days.

Although hot, humid weather is typical for July, temperatures have been unusually high. On Wednesday, Carbon County's 93-degree temperature broke the record, set at 90 degrees in 1990, according to NWS.

The normal daily temperature for July from 1971 through 2000 was 83.9 degrees, according to NWS.

"High temperature records are being shattered from the Midwest to the East Coast as a massive heat wave continues to impact the eastern two thirds of the county. Relief is on the horizon as temperatures will cool significantly next week, but sweltering heat and humidity will remain in place until that time. Take precautions to remain cool and hydrated," NWS's website advises.

The elderly, who may not readily sense changes in body temperature, are especially at risk, as are infants and children, the chronically ill, and the obese.

The extended heat wave recently brought an elderly person to seek help from the emergency department at Blue Mountain Health System's Gnaden Huetten campus, said spokeswoman Lisa Johnson.

"The patient said they kept the windows closed to keep the hot air out (windows should be kept open to allow air flow), and also had a cardigan sweater on," she said.

Medical personnel kept the patient at the hospital overnight for observation. The patient was given fluids, some food, and told to wear light colored clothing made of light material, to drink fluids to keep from dehydrating, and to take the bus to a center or mall where there is air conditioning, Johnson said.

According to the NWS, "heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year. In fact, on average, excessive heat claims more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. In the disastrous heat wave of 1980, more than 1,250 people died. In the heat wave of 1995, more than 700 deaths in the Chicago area were attributed to heat. In August 2003, a record heat wave in Europe claimed an estimated 50,000 lives."

While it makes sense to drink sufficient water and avoid being outside in high temperatures, NWS lists a number of factors that increase the chances of being stricken with hyperthermia, or excessive body temperature.

They include "hot living quarters, lack of transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places, and not understanding how to respond to weather conditions. Older people, particularly those at special risk, should pay attention to any air pollution alert in effect. People without fans or air conditioners should go to shopping malls, movie theaters, libraries or other places with air conditioning. In addition, they can visit cooling centers which are often provided by government agencies, religious groups and social service organizations in many communities," the National Institutes of Health advises.

If a person gets too hot, he or she may suffer from heat exhaustion. The symptoms, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are heavy sweating, weakness, cold, pale and clammy skin, a fast, weak pulse, nausea or vomiting, or fainting.

Those with heat exhaustion must move to a cooler location; lie down and loosen clothing; apply cool, wet cloths to as much of the body as possible; and sip water. If they have vomited and it continues, seek medical attention immediately.

If the body overheats too much, to at least 104 degrees, the person is at risk for heat stroke. Symptoms include a strong, rapid pulse, dry, flushed skin, lack of sweating, faintness, confusion, disorientation, aggression or even coma.

Medical experts urge people to check on the elderly frequently, and if they suspect the elderly person is suffering from a heat-related illness, immediately move them to an air-conditioned or other cool place; have them lie down; remove or loosen tight-fitting or heavy clothing; encourage them to drink water or juice (but not alcohol of caffeinated beverages); apply cold water, ice packs or cold, wet cloths to the person's skin; and get medical help as quickly as possible.

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