Keep cool in the summer heat

Published 6:24 am Monday, July 23, 2018

It’s time to start thinking about summer. This season is a great time to relax and spend time with family. One of the best ways to spend time with your family is during summer vacations, but planning for those can be expensive and time-consuming. At one time or another, we have all heard that exercise has benefits. Some of the most common benefits we tend to hear about are how exercise can help lower your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, but the benefits only start there.

In the midst of summer, Kentucky’s extreme temperatures, high humidity and prolonged heat can make being outdoors uncomfortable and dangerous. During this time, it’s important for you to know the signs and symptoms and prevent heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps and the most serious heat-related illness, heat stroke (also known as sun stroke).

Heat-related illnesses occur when a person’s body cannot properly cool itself. These illnesses can occur at any age, but people who are old, young and obese, and those who have compromised immune systems or abuse alcohol and drugs are at increased risk. Even people on certain medications, such as antihistamines and antipsychotics are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.

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Older adults are at risk for many reasons. Sweat glands, which help cool the body, often diminish in number with age, and those remaining may not function as well as they once did. Existing health problems, especially involving the heart, lung and kidneys, and some medications can also increase older adults’ risk of heat-related illness.

You can take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from overheating. Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• Keep up-to-date on the weather forecast, and stay in your home or another air-conditioned facility, such as a mall, public library or heat-relief shelter, if the temperatures and humidity are forecasted to be extreme.

• Avoid strenuous outdoor activities, such as exercise or gardening, during the heat of the day.

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, fruit or vegetable juices. Drink even when you are not thirsty. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

• Wear loose, lightweight and light-colored clothing.

• To keep your house cooler, refrain from using your oven and cover windows that receive direct sunlight.

• Take cool showers or baths to help yourself cool down.

Know the signs of overheating — dizziness, fatigue, lack of coordination, cold and clammy skin, thirst, headache, nausea, muscle spasms and/or cramps and ankle swelling. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience signs of heatstroke. Heat stroke is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires medical attention. Signs of heat stroke include high body temperature, confusion, changes in behavior, fainting (or feeling faint), staggering, rapid or weak pulse, dry or flushed skin and lack of sweating despite the heat.

If you are a neighbor, friend or family member of an older adult, regularly check on them during warm days and extended/excessive hot periods to make sure they are staying cool, hydrated and that they have access to air conditioning. Seek immediate medical attention if you think someone has signs of a heat-related illness.

More summer safety tips are available at the Harlan County Extension office.

Lora Davidson is the Harlan County Extension agent for family & consumer sciences. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.