Don’t be deceived by the recent spate of showers — summertime is here in full force.
Longer days provide many opportunities for people to enjoy outdoor recreational activities, catch up on yard work or capitalize on the extra hours to accomplish on-the-job tasks, but prolonged exposure to those beautiful golden rays of sunlight may increase the risk of suffering a heat-related injury or illness such as dehydration, heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Pell City resident Shaylyn Dawson discussed ways she prepares for a day out in the sun when she takes her 5-year-old daughter, Gracelyn, to the park.
“I always pack sunscreen that’s SPF 50, waterproof and sweat proof,” Dawson said. “Bug spray that contains the least amount of DEET is a must. I also pack a cooler with water, Gatorade, fruit and other snacks. I also make sure to always carry an extra bathing suit, sunglasses, hats of some sort, a blanket and plenty of toys like water guns, Frisbees, badminton and sand toys.”
Dawson said she reminds her daughter to take a break every 45 minutes to replenish fluids and ensure she doesn’t overexert herself.
“I explained to my daughter that our bodies are like batteries, and after a while, they need recharging,” Dawson said.
Several organizations, including the Occupational Safety and Health Association at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/heat_illnesses.html and the American Red Cross at http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/heat-wave under the “Respond During” tab, provide information on symptoms and how to administer first aid to a person who may be affected by a heat-related illness.
Peggy Mann, executive director for the American Red Cross Talladega-St. Clair Chapter, said information found on the Red Cross website can also be obtained through mobile phone applications.
“On our first aid app, you can pull up heat stroke, and it will tell you right there in the palm of your hand what to look for if you suspect someone is having one of those,” Mann said. “There are differences between heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat strokes. Being able to recognize what those differences are can help save a life.”
The local Red Cross offices also offer brochures and pamphlets to the public aimed toward helping people plan and prepare.
While Mann noted children and the elderly are most susceptible to heat-related illness, she added it’s important not to forget pets when planning to combat the elements.
“We have a whole section online in regards to the pets,” Mann said. “We also have a specific pet app you can download that talks about these situations for your pets. We’re always thinking about making sure we don’t leave our children in the car, but we shouldn’t leave our pets there either.”
Lincoln resident Brad Sparks, who maintained radar equipment while serving in the U.S. Army, gained experience in treating heat illness as a combat lifesaver-certified member of his battalion in Okinawa, Japan, from January 2007 to July 2010.
“I’ve seen two people come down with heat strokes who had to be airlifted to the hospital, and it was nasty,” Sparks said. “They looked almost like they were zombies — like pasty-skinned. You basically stop sweating right before you have a heat stroke”
He explained how sunburn negatively impacts the body’s ability to fight off a heat illness.
“Sunburn plays a big role in heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” Sparks said. “When you get badly sunburned, your body doesn’t sweat right and it doesn’t cool off, so it speeds up the heat stroke process.”
Though one of the tips provided by OSHA and Red Cross is to use cold packs on heat stroke victims, Sparks advises against that approach.
“The worst thing you can do to someone who’s actually showing signs of heat stroke is to put an ice pack on them,” Sparks said. “It’ll send them straight into shock. What you need to do is take some room temperature water, wet a rag and put it on their forehead, unbutton their shirt or blouse, take off their shoes or boots and elevate their feet so the bloodflow takes all the hot blood out from the extremities and starts cooling it off.”
To keep the head and upper torso region cool, Sparks suggests wearing a wide-brimmed hat, whether it’s straw hat, cowboy hat or a “boonie” hat like the one military personnel use during deployments.
He said alcoholic beverages and caffeinated beverages are incompatible with strenuous outdoor labor because they both cause dehydration, and chugging Gatorade gives the body too much electrolytes.
“A good mix I’ve found, especially since I’ve been back here working in this humidity, is for every three bottles of water I drink, I’ll drink half of a 32-ounce Gatorade,” Sparks said. “That way, I’m still replenishing the salt in my body.”
Sparks offered a word of caution to those who work outdoors for a living and live by a “work hard, play hard,” mentality.
“You’ve got to learn your limits,” Sparks said. “Everybody tries to act tough, but being tough doesn’t mean you have to be stupid. You need to use what common sense God or whatever-you-believe-in gave you. You don’t go out the night before rippin’ and rarin’ with your buddies, and then expect to work in 100-degree heat and be okay the whole day.”