Keep cool this summer. Courtesy image
The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) offers tips for residents to stay safe and healthy throughout the summer, while enjoying all the outdoor activities New Mexico has to offer.
With warmer temperatures, there are increased concerns with heat exposure, hydration, safe food handling when in the outdoors, and the return of mosquito season. There are a variety of ways to reduce your health risks and today we look at ways to avoid heat induced illness.
Avoid Heat Induced Illness
There were 137 emergency department visits in New Mexico for heat stress June 2016, the most for any month in the year. Heat stress is a heat-related illness that with inadequate fluid replacement and continued exposure to high temperatures, can progress to more serious conditions such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Its main signs include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, as well as feeling tired, weak and/or dizzy.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and happens when the body loses its ability to sweat. Dehydration and over exposure to the sun can cause heat stroke. The main sign of heat stroke is an elevated body temperature greater than 104 degrees and changes in mental status ranging from personality changes to confusion.
Who Can Be Affected
Anyone can be affected. People at highest risk are the elderly, the very young, and people with existing chronic diseases such as heart disease, and people without access to air conditioning. But even young and healthy people can get sick from the heat if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather.
Make sure children stay hydrated and remain indoors in a place with air conditioning on hot days. On those hot summer days when temperatures are at the highest consider going to a local public library, museum, and a community center. These are good places for child activity time because often these sites have air conditioning (refrigerated air).
Children or animals can be seriously injured or die as temperatures rise within just 10 to 30 minutes of being left alone in a car. Do not leave your children or pets in the car while you are running errands no matter how quick you think it will be.
Studies show the practice of leaving a vehicle window partially open, or cracked, has little effect on decreasing temperature inside.
It is important that adults age 65 and older stay cool. During hot temperatures recreational sports and activities should be done indoors in a cool setting such as at a local senior center. Senior Centers, shopping malls and public libraries are great places to beat the heat.
Seniors who are members of local senior centers should take advantage of their membership on hot days. Check up on elderly or ill relatives who are living on their own during the summer months when temperatures soar. It is critical for loved ones and neighbors to check on seniors who are vulnerable to extreme heat and may need access to a cool environment. If you know of someone who is homebound and without a properly functioning air conditioner, visit or call them to ask how they are doing.
- To protect yourself and those you love from the heat, take the following steps:
- Stay cool indoors; do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device.
- Drink more water than usual
- Avoid alcohol or liquids containing high amounts of sugar
- Replace salt and minerals.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
- Schedule outdoor activities carefully.
- Pace yourself.
- Monitor people at high risk.
- Do not leave children or pets in cars.
If You Suspect Heat Exhaustion
Untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which is a life-threatening condition. If you suspect heat exhaustion, take these steps immediately:
- Move the person out of the heat and into a shady or air-conditioned place.
- Lay the person down and elevate the legs and feet slightly.
- Remove tight or heavy clothing.
- Have the person drink cool water or other nonalcoholic beverage without caffeine.
- Cool the person by spraying or sponging with cool water and fanning.
- Monitor the person carefully.
Call 911 or your local emergency number if the person’s condition deteriorates, especially if he or she experiences:
- Fever of 104 F (40 C) or greater