Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Health Care and Summer Heat

"Summer time, and the livin' is easy. Fish are jumpin, and the cotton is high." So go the lyrics of a famous George Gershwin tune--"Summer Time." What a great time of year, school is out and kids run free. Parties and picnics, swimming pools and the beach, and countless hours doing yard work and a myriad of other fun things that keep you outside in the sun. Yes, summer time is the season that everyone looks forward to for vacations, beautiful gardens and lawns, and super fun--except for the heat. Americans love the sun, but the heat during this time of year can be a killer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best defense against extreme heat is prevention. Here are some prevention tips:
--Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
--Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar–these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.
--Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library–even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
--Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
--Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
--NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.

Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others, according to the CDC. Check regularly on:
--Infants and young children.
--People aged 65 or older.
--People who have a mental illness.
--Those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure.
--Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.

According to RedCross.org, the summertime extreme heat can cause actual physical difficulties which in some instances can be life-threatening. Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms in the legs or abdomen caused by exposure to high heat and humidity and loss of fluids and electrolytes. Heat cramps are often an early sign that the body is having trouble with the heat, and in order to help someone with heat cramps you can follow these suggestions:
--Get them to a cooler place and have them rest in a comfortable position. Lightly stretch the affected muscle and replenish fluids.
--Give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Do not give liquids with alcohol or caffeine in them, as they can make conditions worse.

Heat exhaustion involves the loss of body fluids through heavy sweating during strenuous exercise or physical labor in high heat and humidity, according to RedCross.org. Signs include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin, heavy sweating, headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness and exhaustion. If someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, you should:
--Move them to a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin. Fan the person. If they are conscious, give small amounts of cool water to drink. Make sure the person drinks slowly. Watch for changes in condition.
--If the person refuses water, vomits or begins to lose consciousness, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
--Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition in which a person’s temperature control system stops working and the body is unable to cool itself. Signs of heat stroke include hot, red skin which may be dry or moist; changes in consciousness; vomiting; and high body temperature.
Heat stroke is life-threatening. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
--Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the person’s body by giving care as you would for heat exhaustion. If needed, continue rapid cooling by applying ice or cold packs wrapped in a cloth to the wrists, ankles, groin, neck and armpits.

High heat and humidity can do a number on diabetics, affecting perspiration, medication and supplies, according to the Los Angeles Times. But not everyone who has diabetes is aware of how weather might affect them. People with diabetes have an impaired ability to sweat, which predisposes them to heat-related illness, as do uncontrolled, high blood sugars. Heat illness can take place at 80 to 90 degrees when you factor in the heat index, which is the air temperature plus the relative humidity. The two combined is how you perceive how hot it is. Also, the higher the humidity, the less perspiration evaporates. Some diabetes medication (such as insulin) and supplies may also be affected by high heat, but many diabetics are not sure how to deal with the heat and their supplies. Diabetes medication and glucose testing tools such as meters and test strips should be kept from heat.

According to NetWellness.org, summer heat and sun may potentially put some medication users and alcohol and/or drug abusers at increased risk. Do not stop taking any prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor. The body needs to maintain a relatively consistent temperature to function properly. Some medicines can block the natural ability of the body to adjust to changes in temperature. This can result in overheating. As the outside temperature increases, the body keeps from overheating by releasing excess heat. The most important ways the body releases heat are by:
--Increasing blood flow to the skin.
--Sweating.
These two actions work together--increasing blood flow to the skin brings heat to the surface of the body where the skin acts like a large radiator. Sweating increases heat loss from the skin through the process of evaporation. Some medicines and drugs can disrupt these processes resulting in a reduced ability to adjust to temperature changes. To increase blood flow to the skin, the blood vessels in the body first inform the brain of the elevated temperature. The brain then sends a message to blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow to the skin. The heart must also work harder to circulate the blood. More info about drug interactions with extreme heat can be found at this site: http://www.netwellness.org/healthtopics/pharmacy/w18.cfm.

Summertime heat is an annoyance to some people, according to NaturalNews.com. However, sweating from the hot, summer heat is a natural part of keeping your body healthy, and avoiding this heat can actually cause health problems. People typically run their air conditioners throughout the summertime in order to beat the heat, but doing so can actually compromise the immune system. Summer is the time to sweat. It's a natural process for the body to respond to the outside environment, and adjust itself through the constricting of blood vessels and nerves. Excessive sweating without replenishing the body with water, electrolytes and healthy salt, can be a bad thing, but not sweating at all can be even worse. And moving from hot areas to cold areas, and vice versa, on a regular basis throughout the summer can put excessive strain on a person's health. Sweating is also an important method by which the skin helps to eliminate toxins from the body. One of the skin's functions is to eliminate a portion of the body's toxic waste products through sweating.

Just be careful, though, when the temperature goes up, and especially if the heat goes into the triple digits. Although sweating can relieve some toxins in your body, the overall consensus by medical providers is to not get overheated. That can be very dangerous, especially if you are in a high risk group like diabetics, the elderly, or have other health issues. Always consult your doctor if you feel that you are having problems dealing with the heat, and make sure that 911 is on your phone speed dial if you experience major medical problems when the temperature goes way up. Staying cool during the summer is a good idea, but if you have to be outside when it's hot, take preventive measures to ensure you survive.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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