Temperatures across the southern portion of North Carolina are expected to reach 100 degrees over the weekend, prompting health and weather officials to issue warnings of heat-related illnesses.
In Sampson County, hot and humid conditions are anticipated to push the heat index to well over 100 degrees Saturday and Sunday, which has lead to excessive heat warnings and advisories. The hot weather, health officials say, is the key time to look for symptoms of heat exhaustion or stroke.
According to Erick Herring, operations chief with Sampson County Emergency Management, dehydration from heat exhaustion is the biggest obstacle that many people face during this time of year. The problem, he said, many citizens don’t keep themselves hydrated ahead of the time they spend outside, therefore they often suffer from heat exhaustion or worse, a heat stroke.
“You have to stay hydrated,” Herring admonished. “It’s important to drink plenty of fluids before activities, during activities and after activities.”
For those who don’t stay hydrated, often signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion become present. According to Connie Wolfe, RN Director in the Emergency Department at Sampson Regional Medical Center, people who experience the following problems may be suffering from heat exhaustion:
• Faintness or dizziness
• Nausea or vomiting
• Heavy sweating often accompanied by cold, clammy skin
• Weak, rapid pulse
• Pale or flushed face
• Muscle cramps
• Weakness or fatigue
If left untreated, Wolfe said heat exhaustion can lead to a heat stroke, which is a life-threatening condition.
“A heatstroke can result in a number of complications, depending on how long the body temperature is high,” Wolfe explained. “Severe complications of heat exhaustion include vital organ damage and death.”
According to Wolfe, without a quick response to lower the body temperature, heatstroke can cause the brain or other vital organs to swell, possibly resulting in permanent damage. Even worse, without prompt and adequate treatment, heatstroke can be fatal.
For those who are experiencing a heat stroke, the signs include all those of heat exhaustion, in addition to a high body temperature, altered mental state of behavior and and alteration in sweating.
“Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke,” Wolfe said. “In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel moist.”
Many people get into trouble when they participate in activities outside and forget to drink anything before hand, and most especially afterwards. This, Herring said, causes many problems and can lead to heat exhaustion. When making yourself aware of the signs of heat exhaustion, Herring said to look for confusion and disorientation. Another warning sign of heat exhaustion, he added, is the lack of sweating.
“Once you stop sweating, there is a true emergency,” Herring said. “If these signs occur, call 911 immediately. It’s important to get out of the heat and cool off when these signs start happening. Just make sure emergency services is on the way.”
In the event of heat exhaustion, Herring said, placing a cool rag on the neck or groin area can assist someone with the cooling off process. Wolfe advised that moving out of the heat and into a shady or air-conditioned place may also aide in helping overcome heat exhaustion.
For those who are not being helped by the cooling-off process, Wolfe said a trip to the local emergency room is necessary, especially if fainting, confusion or seizures occur.
Wolfe encourages residents to take precautions to help prevent heat exhaustion and stroke. In addition to staying fully hydrated, the health official says wearing loose fitting clothes, wearing sunscreen and monitoring medication reactions are all ways to help prevent the heat illnesses.
“Never leave anyone in a parked car,” Wolfe advised. “This is a common cause of heat-related deaths in children. When parked in the sun, the temperature in your car can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes. It’s not safe to leave a person in a parked car in warm or hot weather, even if the windows are cracked or the car is in shade. When your car is parked, keep it locked to prevent a child from getting inside.”
Like Wolfe, Herring says paying attention to the time of day is also important. During the hottest parts of the day, it’s best to stay inside or to drink fluids and rest frequently in a cool spot if avoiding strenuous activity outside is not possible.
“If someone does need to go outside, the best times of the day are early morning or late afternoon,” Herring said. “From sun up to about 10 a.m., working or playing outside is fine. Someone can still run into trouble when outside in the late afternoon hours, but that time is better than the middle of the afternoon.
Planning activities according to the weather pattern, is also a great idea. Officials encourage everyone to follow the weather forecast and choose to do outdoor activities on the days that offer much cooler temperatures.
“Get acclimated,” Wolfe said. “Limit time spent working or exercising in heat until you’re conditioned to it. People who are not used to hot weather are especially susceptible to heat-related illness. It can take several weeks for your body to adjust to hot weather.”
Michelle Warren-Coleman, director of Sampson Home Health, says heat stroke and dehydration prevention is one of the biggest educational topics the Sampson Home Health staff tries to focus on with homebound patients and caregivers during the summer months.
“Some patients may lack the funding to pay their electric bill for numerous reasons,” Warren-Coleman said. “The main cause we see in home health is due to patients having to choose between paying their bills and buying their medications. Often times, they chose to suffer through the harsh heat and winters in order to buy their needed medications and foods”
Warren-Coleman said the Sampson Home Health staff takes the time to teach patients ways to help improve their quality of life and prevent avoidable health issues like heat exhaustion and stroke.
“We perform home safety inspections on every admission with the focus of identifying in-home needs such as fans, heaters, assistance with finances, meals on wheels and inform them of the available local community resources,” she added. “We, along with the Department of Social Services, provide one fan to each patient in crisis that are 60 years of age or older and have not received one the prior year.”
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.