Be safe and beat the heat

July brought an excessive-heat warning for the Puget Sound region from the National Weather Service – and some extra words of caution for seniors for the rest of the summer.

The heat warning accompanied weather with temperatures consistently in the mid to high-80s and into the 90s. Exposure to such high heat can cause illness, injury and even death. The elderly, young children and people with chronic health problems are most at risk, according to Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Health authorities recommend protection from heat-related illnesses by:

• Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water; avoid beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol.

• Dressing appropriately in lightweight clothing.

• Avoiding strenuous activity in mid-day.

• Staying indoors and using air conditioning, if possible.

Symptoms of heat-related illnesses to watch for include headache, fatigue, muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, and dizziness or fainting.

More serious symptoms include a rise in body temperature (up to 103 degrees Fahrenheit), a strong, rapid pulse, a throbbing headache with dizziness and confusion, and nausea. Skin may become red, hot to the touch and feel dry. People with these symptoms should seek medical help quickly, officials advised.

The elderly, young children and people with chronic health problems are most at risk. If you know of someone who is elderly, disabled or home-bound due to illness, check on him or her frequently, particularly if they do not have fans or air conditioning, officials urged. They are at a higher risk for health-related complications from the elevated temperatures.

Branch libraries of the Pierce County Library System are among public buildings that have invited people to stop by and cool off by taking advantage of their air conditioning. Citizens are also encouraged to take advantage of cooler air in other public buildings such as movie theaters, shopping malls and stores.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States. On average, excessive heat claims more lives each year than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined.

 “The elderly are often the most vulnerable to severe heat,” said Jeff Huber, president of Home Instead Inc., a franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care network that has clients in Pierce County. “Their bodies do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature, they are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat, and they are often on a prescription medicine that impairs the body’s ability to regulate its temperature or that inhibits perspiration.”