St. Luke's Hospital Urges You to Stay Safe in the Summer Heat

As summer continues to roll on, this a friendly reminder from St. Luke's Hospital: please be careful. As many of us kicked off our summer with a trip to the beach or boating on one of our beautiful mountain lakes, it also ushers in summertime emergencies. With a 24/7 physician-staffed Emergency Department, St. Luke's Hospital is a busy place with summer accidents and injuries ranging from fireworks to boating accidents.

"Our ER is here if you need us, but we'd rather you play it safe," says Dr. Alison Owens, Medical Director of St. Luke's Hospital's Emergency Department. To stay safe and healthy this summer, Dr. Owens reminds us of the following information.

Advanced age makes you more susceptible to . . . Sure, you've heard it before about all sorts of things. But when it comes to hot weather, your susceptibility can kill you.

If you have ever watched the weather forecast in the summer, you already know there is more to the heat than just the air temperature. What matters is how hot it feels to you when you are in it. Fortunately, most meteorologists report the apparent heat, often called the Heat Index or the Heat Stress Index, as part of their weather reports.

What determines the heat index? It is simply the combined effects of the air temperature and the relative humidity. Increases in either temperature or humidity raise the heat index. Let's say it's 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside. When the humidity stands at 30%, the heat index is also 90. But when the humidity reaches 50%, the heat index rises to 96, and at 80% relative humidity, this same air temperature feels like 113 degrees!

The higher the heat index, the greater your risk of heat-related illnesses. With heat indices between 90 and 100, even limited activity can result in heat cramps or heat exhaustion, and even heat stroke is possible. Between heat indices of 101 and 129, all three heat-related illnesses become likely for elderly individuals. Above a heat index of 130, heat stroke may be imminent. Don't even think about going outside.

Take the heat seriously. Besides any medical problems you might have that could be worsened by the heat, you also respond more slowly and less effectively to changes in your body temperature. You sweat less, so you cool off slower, and you don't tend to get thirsty, so you get dehydrated without knowing it.

Even before you develop serious health problems, even before your body temperature starts to rise, you may experience such heat-related illnesses as heat cramps, heat fatigue, or heat syncope.

More serious than those conditions are two conditions that result when the body can no longer maintain its normal temperature. In the face of exposure to extreme heat, the body simply overheats. Two distinct types of severe heat illnesses are possible - heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

For heat cramps, heat fatigue, and heat syncope stop that activity and move to a cooler environment are often sufficient. Nevertheless, particularly if you have other medical conditions, you should contact your physician for advice. Do not treat these symptoms lightly.

Heat exhaustion, though not as serious as heat stroke, is a significant medical problem that requires immediate medical intervention. Untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke. Seek immediate medical attention. In the meantime, take action. Do everything possible to move the victim (or yourself) to a cooler place and help him/her lie down. Give him/her water or juice and soak him/her with cool wet cloths. But do not delay getting medical attention, particularly if their symptoms progress.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1. As soon as you have removed the victim to a cooler location, apply cold water compresses or, even better; immerse him/her in cool water while waiting for EMS to arrive.

Several sources can tell you what to do if a heat wave is predicted and what to do to protect yourself. But it really all boils down to this. Stay out of the heat. Reduce your activities. Drink plenty of cool liquids. And, finally, don't mix heat and alcohol.

Providing the community with what to look for in a heat related illness is yet another way St. Luke's Hospital continues to provide exceptional care, close to home.