With temperatures soaring in near-record and record territory, heat-related illnesses become an ever-present danger. There are, however, some simple things people can do to protect themselves.
Dress the part
Wear clothing that is light -- both in weight and in color. Light colors will reflect some of the sun's energy away from you. Hats and umbrellas are also a good idea. Be sure to use sunscreen. A sun burn can make it hard for the body to cool itself. Also, keep a cell phone nearby. Avoid the outdoors if you have been ill or are prone to heat exhaustion.
Water is essential every day. When it's this hot, H2O is more important than ever. When you're out and about, carry water with you and drink even if you're not thirtsy. Once you feel thirtsy, you're already dehydrated. Juice is a good substitute for water, but caffeinated soda is not. Caffeine, like alcohol, dehydrates the body.
Eat small meals several times a day
Eating large meals will kick your metabolism into high gear, which means your body will be generating its own heat. Also, avoid high-protein foods because they will increase metabolic heat.
Take it easy
If you can, avoid strenuous activity. If you have no choice or refuse to give up your morning run, try to keep it to the coolest time of day, which is generally between, 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.
Don't forget to have plenty of water on hand, no matter what time of day it is. Sports drinks are also good as they will help replace the salt lost through sweating.
If you do have to be out during the heat of the day, watch your fluids -- water and/or sports drinks -- and take breaks. Spend those breaks in a cool area, preferably where there is some kind of breeze. As for the fluids, don't gulp them -- just drink steadily throughout the day.
It sounds like common sense, but if you can avoid going outside, do so. Air conditioning is a wonderful thing.
Think about others
If your neighbors are elderly or perhaps don't have air conditioning, check on them periodically to make sure they're coping.
As important as it is to keep cool and prevent heat-related issues, people also need to know the symptoms heat-spawned illneses. Knowing what to look for and how to treat a problem could save a life.
Heat cramps: Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. They usually involve the abdominal muscles or the legs. It is generally thought that the loss of water and salt from heavy sweating causes the cramps.
Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is less dangerous than heat stroke. It typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a warm, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Fluid loss causes blood flow to decrease in the vital organs, resulting in a form of shock. With heat exhaustion, sweat does not evaporate as it should, possibly because of high humidity or too many layers of clothing. As a result, the body is not cooled properly. Signals include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature will be near normal.
Heat stroke: Also known as sunstroke, heat stroke is life threatening. The victim's temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Signals include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be very high -- sometimes as high as 105 degrees.
Once heat has taken hold
For general heat emergencies, it is essential to cool the body, give the victim fluids and minimize shock.
Heat stroke is a much more serious condition. Because it's potentially deadly, you need to get help fast.
Before you do anything else, call 911. Once you've called for help, your first priority will be to cool the victim quickly. Move him or her to a cooler place. Wrap the victim in wet sheets or towels and fan him.
If ice packs or cold gel packs are avilable, use them. Wrap them in cloth and put them on the victim's ankles and wrists, in his armpits and on the back of his neck. This will help cool the big blood vessels. While rubbing alcohol might seem like a good idea because it feels cool to the touch, do not use it. Rubbing alcohol closes the skin's pores, making heat loss difficult if not impossible.
Do not give a heat stroke victim fluids.
Watch for signs of breathing troubles. Make sure to keep the person's airway clear.
Finally, keep the person quiet, preferably lying down. Panicking will not do anybody any good.