Thursday, August 09, 2007
Keeping your cool in a heat wave
Talk about hot! Yesterday's high here in Washington was 102 degrees - a record! The heat index rose to 110 degrees -- that's how the air feels with the combination of heat and humidity. I admit I was working in an air-conditioned office with a jacket on because it was so cold, but my 10-year-old daughter was sweating it out at soccer camp. As the temperature continued to rise I began to get a little concerned about whether this was a day she should have stayed home. I worried -- did she have enough liquids? Would she remember to put on her sunscreen? Should she have worn a white shirt instead of orange? Should I have given her more tips on how to know if you're in heat-related trouble? Things like: if you're dizzy, if you have a throbbing headache, if your skin gets red or feels hot, but you've stopped sweating get to a shady area and get help immediately.
Washington isn't sweltering alone. An oppressive heat wave is sweeping the country, and relief is not in sight for at least a couple of days. So we must ride the wave and do what we can to stay healthy and safe. Those most at risk are children, the elderly and people with chronic health problems, but everyone should know how to cool off.
There are plenty of tips out there. Drinking lots of fluids is a no-brainer; you need to do that even if you're not involved in strenuous activity, and don't wait until you're thirsty. Don't drink alcohol or lots of sugar --- these actually cause you to lose body fluid. Avoid very cold drinks. Cut out the exercise -- and if you can't do that, cut back. And remember, sports drinks can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. If you can, limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours when it's cooler.
Outside wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. But if at all possible, stay indoors in air-conditioning. If you don't have air-conditioning at home, you can take a cool shower or bath or seek out a cool place -- the mall or a movie theater or the library -- for a few hours.
Remember, heat, humidity, sunshine and smog equal unhealthy conditions. If the quality of the air you're breathing is bad you're more likely to suffer respiratory problems. About 400 people a year die from exposure to excessive heat. So far thee deaths have been attributed to this heat. But what do you think? Is the heat is serious business? Or are we making too much out of a little sunshine?
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