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Striking Summer! - Stay cool, guard against heat stroke as the temperature climbs

Published:Sunday | July 10, 2016 | 7:00 AMRyon Jones

The heat is on and everybody can feel it. But apart from the discomfort that it brings, there are more serious effects that can result if the necessary precautions are not taken.

With this predicted to be one of the hottest summers ever, the Climate Branch of the Meteorological Service of Jamaica is warning of higher-than-normal heat stress.

"Since the start of the year, some stations have exceeded or equalled their maximum monthly temperature based on the historical records," the Meteorological Service said in an emailed response to The Sunday Gleaner.

The guidelines for staying cool do not change, but failure to put these principles into practice could lead to various heat-related problems, according to consultant in emergency medicine at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), Dr Romayne Edwards.

HEATSTROKE

"There is a spectrum, so you start with heat cramps, heat exertion, heat syncope (where you faint), and heatstroke; so heatstroke is like the last thing on the continuum," said Edwards.

"This (heatstroke) is where you have potential damage to the major organs - the brain, the lungs, the heart, the kidneys, the muscles. You also have altered mental status, so you get persons becoming confused, having blurred vision, and that can lead to a coma," added Edwards.

She noted that when a person is suffering from heatstroke, his or her body temperature is usually greater than 104?F or 40?C.

Initial steps can be taken to cool the person down, but unlike some of the other heat-related complications that can be treated at home, the person must get immediate medical attention.

"The person needs to be cooled down using a fan. An air-condition unit, if available, would be better. You can use sheets with water and ice packs under the arms, or a cold shower," said Edwards.

"And, of course, the person should be hydrated while on his or her way to the hospital. But if someone is suspected to have suffered a heatstroke, he or she needs to be taken to the emergency department, as it is not to be dealt with at home due to the risk of organ damage."

She is also warning against persons engaging in taxing physical activities during the middle of the day when the sun is at its peak or participating in things such as marathons without having prepared properly, as they will be at risk of exertion heatstroke.

Non-exertion heatstroke, on the other hand, is said to mainly affect the very young, very old, and those on certain types of medications, such as diuretics, which causes you to lose lots of water and those that prevent the body from dilating.

"Do not leave young ones and the elderly in cars by themselves or in a locked room. Also, for the elderly who are bedridden, ensure that they are kept hydrated," Edwards cautioned.

"Watch the urine for signs. Urine is supposed to be clear, so if you notice it getting mellow yellow to orange, you are dehydrated and need to drink more water."

As for those who might want to head to the beach to cool off, Edwards is advising against doing so when the sun is at its peak.

She is also recommending that persons avoid being outside in the middle of the day, where possible, but if they have to, they should wear sunscreen, hydrate well, and dress appropriately in clothes that allow them to sweat, and wear a hat to shield from the rays of the sun.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com

Keeping cool

n Stay indoors in your coolest room during the hottest part of the day. Splash or spray yourself with cool water.

n Seek shade; avoid hard physical activity.

n Drink water or fruit juice regularly.

n Wear cool, loose, long-sleeved clothing.

n Avoid tea, coffee and alcohol. If you do drink alcohol, make sure you also have water or other non-alcoholic drinks.

n Consult your doctor if you feel signs of confusion, dizziness, nausea, muscle swelling, heart disturbances, or a headache.