With the first big extreme heat wave smothering the St. Louis area in mid-July, health advisors in Missouri and Illinois urge residents to take precautions to avoid heat-related and possible life-threatening medical emergencies. An Excessive Heat Warning means that a prolonged period of dangerously hot temperatures and high humidity will occur. In addition, nighttime conditions will remain warm and muggy providing little chance for relief.
Dangerously high temperatures and humidity can quickly cause heat stress or heat stroke if precautions are not taken. People experiencing heat exhaustion may have some or all of the following common symptoms – heaving sweating, weakness, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting; thirst, clammy skin, dark colored urine; fainting, fatigue, headaches and confusion. Without proper intervention, heat exhaustion could lead to heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other organs and can be deadly.
How to help
If a person is suffering from the heat, Web.MD says immediately get out of the heat and rest, preferably in an air-conditioned room. If you can't get inside, try to find the nearest cool and shady place. Drink plenty of fluids, especially sports drinks to replace lost salt (avoid caffeine and alcohol); remove any tight or unnecessary clothing; take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath; try using fans or ice towels. If such measures fail to provide relief within 15 minutes, call 911 and seek emergency medical help, because untreated heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke.
The very young, the elderly, chronically ill, persons without air conditioning, and those participating in strenuous outdoor activities will be most susceptible. Also, car interiors can reach lethal temperatures in a matter of minutes. The elderly and chronically ill are often more vulnerable to heat and humidity because they perspire less and are more likely to be taking medications that can impair the body’s response to heat.
In Missouri last year, 19 Missourians died from heat-related illness.
“As Missouri faces excessive heat forecasts over much of the state, it is important that we remain vigilant about the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” said Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services. “Missourians have had to face significant severe weather events this year and now, as temperatures rise, we are again urging residents to stay safe and look out for each other. We encourage everyone to check on elderly family, friends and neighbors to make sure they are staying cool and hydrated.”
Williams urges Missourians to use the state's toll-free abuse and neglect hotline at 1-800-392-0210 and report any elderly or adults with disabilities suffering from the heat and needing assistance. Local cooling centers in Missouri are posted on the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services website at https://tinyurl.com/MoCoolingCenters.
To stay cool during the summer season, wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing; stay in air-conditioned places as much as possible. Don’t wait until you are thirsty – stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids regardless of your activity level. Avoid sugary and alcoholic beverages because they actually cause you to lose body fluids.
Plan outdoor activity for morning or evening hours as much as possible when the temperature is coolest.
Reduce exercise or physical activity during the hottest part of the day and take frequent breaks in the shade or in an air-conditioned place.
Wear sunscreen because sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool down and can make you dehydrated.
In your home, change air conditioner filters, cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes or shades, and make sure you have portable fans if necessary.
Look before you lock
Summer heat can quickly cause the temperature of your car to become deadly, especially for children. The inside temperature of your car can rise almost 20 degrees Fahrenheit within the first 10 minutes. Parents should always check the back seats of your vehicle before you lock it and walk away. Keep a stuffed animal or other memento in your child’s car seat when it is empty, and move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when your child is in the back seat.
Pets need an air conditioned environment in extreme heat as well. The St. Louis Department of Health says never leaving pets alone in a vehicle. If you see a pet in an unattended vehicle, call 911.
Watch for coolant leaking from your vehicle. A pet drinking just a small amount can cause death.
Do not force your animal to exercise after a meal in hot, humid weather. Limit exercise to the early morning or evening hours, when there are typically cooler temperatures.
Never leave your pet standing on asphalt surfaces, as they can burn their paws.
For cooldown assistance
The City Health Department reminds residents of services available to assist in extreme temperatures. Cooldownstlouis.org helps area older adults and the physically disabled by providing air-conditioners (while supplies last) and utilities. Area low-to-moderate income households may also apply for utility assistance only, at CoolDownStlouis.org. There's a seniors-only automated hotline at 314-241-7668.
The United Way of Greater St. Louis Information Referral Line has information on cooling sites by calling 1-800-427-4626, or if calling from a land-line phone, dial 2-1-1.
For help with a serious heat-related illness, call 911.
Immediately report animals in distress to the City of St. Louis Citizens’ Service Bureau by calling 314-622-4800, online at www.stlouis-mo.gov/csb, or tweet to @stlcsb. You can also contact Stray Rescue of St. Louis at 314-771- 6121, ext.255.