Extreme heat calls for extreme caution

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 19, 2002

With the heat index in Andalusia and other areas in Covington County surpassing the century mark over the past several days, the conditions should serve as reminder to use extreme caution in dealing with the extreme heat.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, people usually suffer heat-related illness when the body's temperature control system is overloaded, and the body normally cools itself by sweating.

Under some conditions, however, sweating may not prove to be enough and the body's temperature may rise rapidly.

Conditions that may limit the body's ability to regulate temperature may include old age, obesity, dehydration, heart disease, sunburn and drug and alcohol use.

Of course one of the basic steps to fighting effects of extreme heat is drinking plenty of fluids, such as water or even some fruit drinks or sports drinks, which are beneficial in helping to restore salt and minerals to the body.

It may be best to consult a doctor about drinking some sports beverages if you are on a low-salt diet.

Clothing is also important during times of extreme heat. It is recommended that you wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home, and to wear clothing that is loose-fitting, lightweight and light-colored. Wearing a hat when outside is a good idea as it will provide a shade and help to prevent sunburn, which could eventually lead to some forms of skin cancer.

When choosing sunscreen lotions, it is good to choose one with the highest sun protection factor possible,

a sun protection factor of 15 or higher usually high enough to provide adequate protection.

While common sense tells us that, whether we are indoors or outdoors, it is best to direct activities carefully toward cooler locations. It is especially imperative to monitor those who are at a higher risk of heat-related illness, such as infants and children up to four years of age, people 65 years of age and older, people who are overweight, people who overexert during work or exercise and people who are on certain medications.

Several illnesses are commonly linked to the extreme heat which Covington County and surrounding areas have been subject to recently, including heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

Warning signs of heat stroke may include an extremely high body temperature, red, hot and dry skin, rapid and strong pulse and dizziness while symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness and fainting.

Cooling measures which may be effective for these symptoms include drinking cool, non-alcoholic beverages, rest, a cool shower, bath or sponge bath and rest and persons should seek medical attention immediately if symptoms are particularly severe and the victim has heart problems or high blood pressure.

Heat cramps can also be a painful problem for those people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This perspiration can deplete the body of salt and moisture.

Other problems correlated with exposure to the sun include sunburn and heat rash.

Too much exposure to the sun and extreme heat can cause myriad problems for humans, but it can also translate into many problems with pets.

Pets with heat stroke usually display extreme panting, excessive salivation and dark colored gums and the key to successful recovery is early detection and treatment.

Dr. Faith Drumheller of the Opp Veterinary Clinic said her clinic occasionally receives animals who are victims of heat.

"We really haven't had many (heat-related cases) yet this summer, but we get those periodically," said Drumheller. "Last year we had a case where a dog had been tied outside in the sun and it was by accident. We had to submerge the animal (with cold water) and this dog was able to recover, but many times animals who have been exposed can develop secondary problems which causes their immune systems to fall apart."

She said preventative measures that she would suggest include many of the basics.

"People should have plenty of fresh water nearby, and we have a lot of people who keep rabbits outside, but rabbits get stressed very quickly from the heat," said Drumheller. "For horses it is a good idea to have fans around them."

Drumheller said it is important to show some animals how to cool off in the water, or they may continue to stay in dry and hot areas.

She said it is also best not to overfeed animals that are outside.

The most critical step to take is to decrease the animal's temperature and to remove a pet from the hot environment if possible. The animal should also receive veterinary attention as soon as possible if symptoms persist and are severe.

In the summer months, it may be best to let your pet stay home, rather than riding around in a hot vehicle and if pets must travel, keep them cool with access to plenty of fresh water at all times.

Hot weather can prove fatal to certain plants and crops, as well as grass, if not watered correctly and often. It is important, though, not to over-water your lawn or to water your lawn if it does not need watering.