Summer is officially here and the prospect of rising temperatures is close on the horizon. As Clallam County health officer Dr. Allison Unthank notes, with higher heat comes higher health risks — especially for those considered to already be at higher risk for health problems.
“Heat related illness is always a major concern this time of year,” Unthank told the Gazette. “It’s something we always need to be more aware of and be proactive about.”
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the two major health concerns that come out of summer heat. While Sequim typically enjoys cooler weather than the Seattle area does it still can get hot and dry enough to make heat issues something to be concerned about, particularly with the area’s large senior population.
“Seniors are one of several notably at-risk groups in hot weather,” Unthank said. “That includes children, pregnant women, and many people with chronic health issues.”
A lack of proper hydration can play a big role in having heat exhaustion or eventually heat stroke, with Unthank noting that it’s especially difficult for seniors.
“As we age, our body’s ways of telling us that we’re thirsty don’t work as well,” she said. “That makes it all the more important to remember to drink water even if you’re not thirsty.”
Take on water
Unthank said she generally recommends people drink about 50 percent more water when it starts to get hot to help make sure they stay properly hydrated.
In addition to dehydration, there are several symptoms to watch for when heat exhaustion starts to set in. According to Unthank and Clallam County Fire District 3, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, nausea and headaches are all signs of heat exhaustion, along with elevated body temperature.
Those experiencing heat exhaustion don’t necessarily need to call 9-1-1, but fire department officials recommended keeping that as an option.
Unthank also recommends seeking a shaded or indoor area with cooler temperatures, and to hydrate.
Taking a cool shower can help lower one’s body temperature as well, but it’s important to not take too cold of a shower because dropping one’s core temperature too fast can be dangerous as well.
When weather is warming up it’s important to pay close attention to signs of heat exhaustion, because if left unchecked it can develop into heat stroke, which is an emergency situation.
Higher body temperatures, reddening/drying out, a sudden stop of sweating or a sudden onset of confusion are all initial signs of heat stroke.
“If that happens,” Unthank said, “you are having an emergency and 9-1-1 needs to be called.”
The best way to deal with heat exhaustion or stroke is to aim to avoid it in the first place. In addition to staying properly hydrated, Unthank and fire department officials have several simple suggestions to help keep cool and healthy:
• If you don’t have air conditioning, keeping your blinds closed during the day and opening your windows at night can help keep your home cooler
• Avoid excessive exertion in high temperatures: If you need to work outside, take frequent breaks in a cooler place.
• Dress for the weather; avoid heavier clothes, and don’t over-dress children
• Check with your doctor to see if any medications you have can cause a concern: According to Unthank, several medications, including diuretics, can dehydrate you and leave you more at risk of heat-related illness
• Consume less caffeine, alcohol and sugar, which are all dehydrating
Unthank noted that a favorite beverage of people who work out frequently, Gatorade, is a potential point of concern.
“The electrolyte recovery Gatorade and drinks like that provide is helpful,” she said, “but the sugar content is so high that it can actually cause you to dehydrate instead of hydrating you.”
If you’re working out and in need of electrolytes, Unthank recommends watered-down Gatorade.
“Putting in at least the same volume of water will let you get your electrolytes without putting yourself at greater risk,” she said.