Transcript of Get Ready Report Podcast, episode 26

How to stay safe in hot weather

In this episode, Linda Degutis, DrPH, MSN, speaks with The Nation's Health Reporter Teddi Dineley Johnson about heat-related illnesses. Degutis, former president of the American Public Health Association, offers tips for staying safe in hot weather and describes the warning signs of heat-related illnesses.

Good morning, Linda.
Good morning, Teddi.

Let's start with: Why is hot weather dangerous?
Hot weather is risky because extreme heat can lead people to have very high body temperatures and then subsequent brain and organ damage and even death. So we do worry about peopleís exposure to heat and the impact it might have on them.

Who is most at risk?
The people who are most at risk are the elderly and often they are in places where they may not have air conditioning or may not have access to a place to get cooled off. People who work or exercise outdoors are certainly at risk. Infants and children, homeless people who are outside and constantly exposed and then people who have chronic medical conditions that basically decrease their tolerance for heat.

Are heat related illnesses preventable?
They are and thatís the good thing about all of this, is that we can prevent heat related illnesses by taking some relatively simple precautions. One of the most important ones clearly is to stay cool as much as possible and if youíre home or where you are isnít cool enough, often governments or towns have shelters, particularly for the elderly. One of the other things thatís very important is to stay hydrated and drink a lot of fluids and when we talk about drinking fluids we are talking about drinking water, non-alcoholic beverages. Juices are certainly okay but you donít want to overdo beverages with a lot of sugar in them. So water is really one of the best beverages that people can drink to help stay hydrated. Caffeine can act as a bit of a diuretic, so you donít always retain as much of the fluid as you might want to, and when the goal is really to get hydrated and stay hydrated, water is really the ideal beverage for that. The other issue again with sodas is the high sugar content, and again youíre not getting any nutrients from it, youíre just getting sugar and basically fluid, so water is really the best beverage.

Overall, what can we do to stay safe and healthy in hot weather?
The first protection is stay cool. Stay inside where itís cool. If youíre in a place thatís air conditioned, stay there. You can go to a facility like a shopping mall or a library where there is air conditioning. Stay hydrated as I mentioned, and drink cool nonalcoholic beverages and if your activity level increases you should make sure that you increase the amount of fluid that you take in and not wait until youíre thirsty to drink and this is whether youíre doing yard work, whether youíre playing sports, no matter what youíre doing. But the other thing is we want people to stay active. We donít want people to do too much on a hot day but if you know itís going to be hot, the physical activity part of your day should take place early in the day or in the evening when its cooler and the sun isnít increasing the heat, so you can plan your day around doing sports activities or running early or late in the day.

When should you seek medical attention? What would the symptoms of heat related illness look like?
Thatís a really important thing to think about. If you start to experience the symptoms of heat related illness, the signs and symptoms of heat stroke Ė and heat stroke is the most serious heat related illness Ė this is when your body becomes unable to cool down its temperature and your body temperature rises rapidly and you lose your ability to sweat so you donít cool down, and your body temperature can rise very quickly. So the warning signs Ė they vary Ė and you may not have all of them but they can include things like a very high body temperature above 103 degrees; your skin being red, hot and very dry, so youíre not sweating, which would be the normal response Ė so youíre not sweating; a rapid, strong pulse; a throbbing headache; dizziness or nausea. And then thereís a milder form of heat-related illness Ė heat exhaustion =--and that sometimes develops after youíve been exposed to heat for several days, high temperatures for several days, or you havenít really adequately replaced your fluids. Some of those warning signs are just really heavy sweating Ė heavier than what you might normally experience when you exercise; being pale; having muscle cramps; feeling extremely tired and sometimes weak or dizzy; you can have a headache, nausea or vomiting; you may faint; your skin might be cool and moist and a rapid pulse rate, your heart rate is very fast but its weak and your breathing is fast and shallow. So for any of those you should make sure that you seek medical attention and certainly if you have any signs of heat stroke itís a severe emergency and you should call 911.

What kinds of clothing would you wear in the heat?
First of all, lightweight, light colored and loose fitting clothing will do the most to keep you cool. So thatís what you should pick. And if youíre in the house, clearly you can wear as little clothing as possible but outside, if you cover yourself up with very light clothing thatís loose fitting it can help prevent sunburn which also impacts your tolerance to heat. If you have to go outside wear a wide brimmed hat which serves two purposes, it protects you from the sun but it also can keep you cooler. Wearing sunglasses Ė just the kinds of things that you might think of doing if you were going out into the sun to protect yourself. Light clothing is important.

Where can people go to get more information regarding heat warnings?
They can go to emergency.cdc.gov and look under extreme heat and then the national weather service will also post warnings if there is extreme heat expected in your area. So you should listen to the weather reports because they will be able to predict extreme heat and so you can prepare yourself and be ready for it.

Is there anything else youíd like to add?
The other ting people can do is sign up for free weather alerts and I think that can be very helpful, that will warn you of any kind of extreme heat or any weather emergency and those they can get from websites like www.weather.com and then you can get alerts on your phone or email. Many local communities provide weather alerts and automatic notifications now if thereís going to be any extreme weather condition that they think is going to affect their community so itís very important to make sure that youíre registered with your local community for those warnings.

Linda, thank you so much for joining us today.

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