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Heat illness and how to avoid it

Summer in Southern Oregon is filled with lots of fun outdoor activities, and it is important to understand and prevent heat-related illness.

During hot weather, especially when it is humid, sweating isn’t enough to cool you off. Your body temperature can rise to dangerous levels quickly and you can develop a heat-related illness. Exercising and working outside in high heat are leading causes of heat illnesses. However, just “sitting” in the sunshine on a hot summer day may be enough to cause cramps and exhaustion. Older adults, young children and those who are sick or obese are most at risk. Taking certain medication and drinking alcohol may also raise your risk.

Heat related illness includes:

Heat stroke: a life-threating illness in which your body temperature rises above 106 degrees in minutes. Symptoms include dry skin, rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea and confusion.

Heat exhaustion: an illness that can happen after several days of exposure to high temperatures and not enough fluids. Symptoms include heavy sweating, rapid breathing ands fast, weak pulse. If left untreated it may become heat stroke.

Heat cramps: muscle pain or spasm that happens during heavy exercise or work.

If you see or experience any of these signs, get medical help as soon as possible. If you have ever suffered from heat-related illness, you are more susceptible and should plan your outdoor activities accordingly.

You can lower your risk of heat-related illness by drinking water and diluted electrolyte drinks to stay hydrated. Limit your time in the heat. Maintain situational awareness, know the weather, your limitations, and what you are committing to. Wear loose and comfortable clothing that can breathe and release heat. If you travel, make sure you acclimate yourself to your new environment. If you have a pre-existing health condition, ask for your doctor’s advice beforehand.

Older people can have a tough time dealing with heat and humidity. The temperature inside or outside does not have to reach 100 degrees to put them at risk for a heat-related illness. During hot weather, think about making daily visits to older relatives and neighbors. Remind them to drink lots of water, as long as their doctor hasn’t recommended otherwise. If there is a heat wave, offer to help them go someplace cool. Plan outdoor activities early in the morning or when the sun starts to set. Wearing loose, light-colored clothing may also help keep them cool.

We hope this helps you to stay safe and enjoy your summer. Remember to stay hydrated, keep cool and have fun during these hot summer months.

Steve Boyersmith is a battalion chief at Ashland Fire & Rescue. He can be reached at steven.boyersmith@ashland.or.us.