IU East Dean of Nursing provides safety tips for sultry weather

With east central Indiana under a heat advisory and hazardous weather outlook due to rising temperatures, residents are being encouraged to avoid the heat and take steps to keep themselves cool and hydrated. The National Weather Service says today’s high temperature could reach 103 degrees with the weekend forecast providing a slight break with temperatures in the 90s.

Indiana University East Dean of the School of Nursing Karen Clark, Ed.D., RN, has provided answers to questions pertaining to the heat and heat related illnesses. Clark has a working background in community health in addition to authoring academic publications, leading presentations and holding offices in various professional nursing organizations.

Why is it important to be aware of the heat and its effects on the body?
When it is extremely hot, people may suffer from heat-related illnesses when the body is not able to compensate and properly cool itself.  High body temperatures can lead to damage of the brain or other vital organs. Ultimately, excessive heat exposure can lead to death.

What is considered extreme heat?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “conditions of extreme heat are defined as summertime temperatures that are substantially hotter and/or more humid than average for location at that time of year.”

What is a heat stroke and what are the warning signs of heat stroke?
Heat stroke occurs when the body is not able to regulate its temperature and body temperature rises quickly. The person is unable to sweat and the body cannot regulate temperature to cool down. This is a medical emergency as disability and death may occur if not treated immediately.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, warning signs of a heat stroke include:

  • Body temperature above 103 degrees
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

If you see someone experiencing the signs of a heat stroke, what should you do?
This is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening. Call for emergency medical assistance and begin cooling the victim.  Get the victim to a shady area if outside. Cool the victim rapidly such as spraying water from a garden hose, placing in a tub of cool water, or sponging them with cool water. Monitor body temperature. If emergency personnel are delayed, contact your local emergency room for further instructions. Do NOT give the victim fluids.

What is heat exhaustion and what are the warning signs of it?
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness. Signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Pale color
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Pulse will be fast and weak
  • Breathing will be fast and shallow

How should you treat heat exhaustion?
Since untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, it is important to treat it quickly and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.  To cool the body, one should:

  • Drink cool nonalcoholic beverages—water is best
  • Rest
  • Take a cool shower or bath
  • Get into a cooler environment, preferably in air conditioning
  • Wear lightweight clothing

Are certain groups more prone to heat illnesses than others?
Anyone can suffer heat-related illness but there are some individuals who are at greater risk. These include infants and young children, those over the age of 65, people with mental illness, and those who are physically ill, especially those with heart disease or high blood pressure. These individuals should be monitored whenever extreme heat conditions occur.

What can be done to prevent heat-related illness?
Prevention is always the best course of action. The following tips will help in the prevention of heat related illness:

Drink more nonalcoholic beverages than normal, regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty. If you are on fluid restrictions for a medical condition, contact your physician to discuss how much fluid you should drink during extreme heat.

Don’t drink a lot of liquids that contain sugar as these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Avoid very cold drinks as they may cause stomach cramping.

Stay indoors when possible. Stay in air conditioning. If you do not have air conditioning, go to places such as libraries and shopping areas that do. Many areas will also have cooling stations. Take advantage of these. Keep in mind that electric fans may provide comfort but they do little to prevent heat-related illness when temperatures are above 90.

If you must be out, try to limit your activity to morning and evening hours. If outside, be sure to rest often in shady areas. Protect yourself from the sun by using sunscreen and wearing a wide-brimmed hat.

Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

Never leave any person or animal in a closed, parked car.

Avoid hot foods and heavy meals as they add heat to your body.