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Science and the Environment

With Temps on the Rise, Ways to Avoid Heat Illness

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KSMU archives
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Sun Glare Shines Through Tree / Photo Credit: Shannon Bowers

With temperatures on the rise this week, local health officials are offering tips on ways to stay safe from the extreme heat.

According to the National Weather Service, heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States.

The Springfield – Greene County Health Department reported 53 heat-related illnesses in the 2014 summer season.

“As the temperatures rise and especially as humidity and as the heat index rises there are a lot of different heat illnesses that can crop up as a result,” says Kathryn Wall, Public Health Information administrator of the Springfield – Greene County Health Department.

Last year, the U.S. climate data for Springfield showed the highest temperature was 100.9 degrees, which occurred in late August. This week, temperatures and heat indexes could reach into the 90s.

The most common heat-related illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rash. The most serious form among all is a heat stroke.

“In a scenario where someone is experiencing heat stroke that could include an altered mental state, throbbing headache, confusion, a very high internal body temperature,” Wall explains, “that’s a scenario where that is a severe medical emergency, and someone needs to call 911 and get some help.”

However, someone with a mild condition such as heat cramps can treat themselves by going inside a cooled area and drinking plenty of water.

“Things like alcohol and drinks with caffeine actually make dehydration worse,” Wall says.

“It’s really not helping you during those really hot times a day when you’re going to be outside for a long period of time. We just suggest that people really keep that in mind and really drink water.”

Heat-related illnesses are preventable and there are several ways to reduce the risk when exposed to extreme heat. The U.S. Department of Labor website includes tips from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) on how to stay cool in the heat.

The best ways to prevent heat illness are by staying inside an air-conditioned facility, increasing general ventilation, and using cooling fans and reflective shields, insulating hot surfaces and eliminating stream leaks.

Local residents can also take advantage of The Springfield – Greene County Park Board Family Centers and the Mediacom Ice Park that all provide open lobbies as public cooling areas during heat advisories.