By Col. Deborah B. GraysJuly 23, 2010
Fort McPherson & Fort Gillem
No one has to tell us summer is here - a step into the heat and humidity outdoors leaves no question as to what season we're in.
One of our garrison Civilians recently went to a movie with her Family.
When they returned to their car afterward, they watched the car's outside temperature sensor climb - 110 degrees, 112 degrees, 115 degrees, 117 degrees.
While it obviously wasn't really that hot outside (the thermometers of cars that have been stationary are often affected by re-radiated heat from the car's engine, asphalt, etc.), the event serves as a reminder of the extreme heat we endure throughout summer and the need to protect ourselves.
Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States. National Weather Service statistics show heat causes more fatalities per year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined.
Based on information from 2000 to 2009, excessive heat claims an average of 162 lives a year. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, extreme heat is classified as summertime temperatures that are substantially hotter or more humid than average for a location at a given time of year.
In Georgia, it is not unusual for summer temperatures to soar into the mid- to upper-90s, or higher.
The elderly, the very young and people with chronic disease are at the highest risk for injury; however, any of us can be affected.
Several factors affect the body's ability to cool itself.
High humidity means sweat will not evaporate as quickly.
Age, obesity, dehydration, heart disease, sunburn and prescription drug and alcohol use also prevent the body from reacting. Of course, even young and healthy individuals can succumb if they participate in strenuous activities during the heat of the day.
Individuals who work outside, such as those in the construction, landscaping, farming and other professions, must constantly be mindful of their bodies, ensuring they take frequent breaks from the heat, stay hydrated and protect themselves from the sun's harsh rays.
No less important are the protective actions taken by athletes on the playing fields, backyard gardeners, visitors to amusement parks and anyone else who spends time outdoors recreationally.
The symptoms of heat-related illnesses include nausea, dizziness, flushed or pale skin, heavy sweating and headaches.
Victims should be moved to a cool place, given cool water to drink and ice packs, or cool, wet clothes should be applied to the skin.
If a victim refuses water, vomits or loses consciousness, call 911 immediately.
As with many challenges, the best defense is a good offense. Keep these tips in mind to minimize the potential for heat injuries:
Aca,!AcCheck, or pay someone else to check, to ensure your home's cooling system is working properly.
Aca,!AcDrink plenty of fluids. Carry water or juice with you and drink continuously, even if you don't feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate the body.
Aca,!AcEat smaller meals.
Aca,!AcWear appropriate clothing. When going outside, choose light-weight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun's energy. If you must go outside, wear a wide-brimmed hat to help protect your face, neck and shoulders, and sunglasses to protect your eyes. While at home, wear as little clothing as is appropriate.
Aca,!AcWear sunscreen that is SPF 15 or higher (I've seen SPF 100 sunscreen in the stores), applying it 30 minutes before going out. Look for sunscreen packages that say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection." Reapply sunscreen based on package directions.
Aca,!AcTry to schedule outdoor excursions for the early morning or evening, when temperatures are cooler.
Aca,!AcIf possible, stay in air-conditioned areas. Whether this means your home, local stores or restaurants, even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
Aca,!AcUse the buddy system when you work outside. Be mindful of others who are outside with you - watch them for signs of heat injury. Also, check on neighbors, the elderly and others who don't have air conditioning and who may spend much of their time alone.
Aca,!AcNever leave children or pets alone in an enclosed vehicle. Autumn officially arrives two months from today; we can expect many hot days between now and then.
I ask each of you to take precautions to ensure you, your Family and your neighbors endure the sweltering summer months as safely as possible. Make sure you beat the heat!