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Staying safe, healthy during summer heat

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Posted: Wednesday, August 11, 2004 10:00 pm

As summer begins to wind down but the temperatures remain high, medical experts say it's time for people to do more than crank up their air conditioners or drink giant sodas to deal with the heat.

Denise Drewry, the emergency room manager at Sutter Tracy Community Hospital, said there are a number of ways the heat can affect someone's health.

"In the summer, people like to get out and enjoy the sunshine and warm days, but sometimes they either forget to take precautions or don't understand how to prevent problems," Drewry said.

Sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke are some of the biggest summertime health problems.

"Everyone wants that healthy tan," Drewry said, "but tanning can increase the aged look of the skin and lead to skin cancer in later years, especially if you sunburn."

She added that children are particularly susceptible to sunburns and often end up with fevers, fluid-filled blisters and severe pain if they are not properly protected. She suggested using a good sunscreen whenever heading outdoors, even on cloudy summer days.

Heat cramps occur when the body's salt and moisture supply has been depleted through sweating, and that low level of salt in the muscles leads to cramping and spasms.

Cramps can also be a symptom of heat exhaustion, which is another major heat illness and is related to exposure to high temperatures and inadequate replacement of body fluids. Heat exhaustion often affects the elderly and individuals with high blood pressure, or those working or exercising in a hot environment.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, dizziness, muscle cramping and vomiting. If untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke.

Heatstroke occurs when the body's temperature rises so quickly that it can't regulate itself, causing sweat glands to fail and leaving the body with no outlet to cool itself. If not treated immediately, heatstroke can cause death or permanent disability. Signs of heatstroke include a body temperature higher than 103 degrees; red, hot, dry skin; rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion and unconsciousness.

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