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2006 News from Mecklenburg County


June 21, 2006

SUMMER'S HERE: HEALTH DEPARTMENT SAYS PROTECT YOURSELF FROM HEAT AND SUN

Charlotte, NC – It's the first day of summer and the heat is on. As we begin to broil in the hot Carolina sun, the Mecklenburg County Health Department wants to help protect you and your family from the potentially harmful effects of the sun and hot temperatures.

It's always important to look out for those may not be able to care for themselves. With temperatures soaring into the mid-90s, the elderly and the very young are at a greater risk of suffering from heat related illness. This at-risk group also may include persons who are overweight, those who are ill or on certain medications, and those whose occupations expose them to extreme heat conditions.

Even short periods of exposure to high temperatures can cause serious health problems. Spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated environment can harm those at risk.

To help prevent or reduce the risk of heat-related illness:

• Check on the elderly frequently. Insure that those 65 years of age and older are cool and safe from exposure to high temperatures. They are less likely to sense and respond to temperature changes and those on certain medications or with chronic illnesses are most vulnerable.
• If you cannot be in an air conditioned environment, keep air circulating with fans and adjust blinds and window shades to reduce heat from the sun. Shut off all non-essential lights and appliances.
• Never leave a child or pet unattended in a car during hot weather, even with the windows open. Temperatures can reach lethal levels within minutes.
• Drink plenty off water (as many as 8-10 glasses a day, more if you are working or exercising in a hot environment) to maintain good hydration. Carry water or juice with you and drink often, even if you don't feel thirsty.
• Do NOT drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar. These can actually cause you to lose more body fluid.
• When entering a vehicle, protect children from hot parts such as seat belts and metal clips. Carry a towel to place under children from protection from burns.
• Wear loose fitting, light colored clothing. If you must be outdoors, be sure to apply sunscreen. In addition to very real concerns about skin cancer, sunburn affects your body's ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluid.
• Make sure to keep your activity to a minimum during the hottest part of the day.

Remember, anyone can suffer from heat related illness. It happens when your body is unable to compensate and properly cool itself. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn't enough. When this occurs, the temperature of the body rises rapidly and heat-related illness may develop.

Heat related illness falls into three categories:

• Heat cramps are muscle cramps that usually begin in the legs and abdomen, often following strenuous exercise.
• Heat exhaustion is more serious. It can develop after prolonged exposure to high temperatures and inadequate fluid replacement. The warning signs include elevated body temperature; heavy sweating; excessive thirst; dizziness and nausea; vomiting and diarrhea; even fainting.
• Heat stroke is the most serious heat related illness. Symptoms include high body temperature (106 degrees F or higher), red, hot and dry skin with no sweating, rapid pulse, confusion, unconsciousness, and even death.

If you experience any of the symptoms listed, get help immediately. 

Don't forget that during the summer months, Air Quality can also be an issue for certain groups in Mecklenburg County. Many summer days are labeled as Ozone Action Days. These happen when heat, along with pollution from automobiles and other sources combine to affect individuals sensitive to air quality. The young, elderly and those with respiratory problems may experience difficulties and other health-related issues during Ozone Action days.

To learn more about ozone and air quality, check out the Mecklenburg County Air Quality web site at http://AirQuality.CharMeck.org.

For much more on keeping your family safe from exposure to heat and sun, go to www.meckhealth.org.



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