Playing out in the sun and working in the yard are common summer activities for families and individuals.
Without proper precautions, however, the sun and summer heat can lead to some serious health conditions.
"(Heat-related illness) is a danger for warm weather," said Dr. Kelly Chumbley, a physician in the emergency department at Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center. "As we start seeing warmer temperatures, people are at an increased risk - mainly the elderly, because our elderly population is growing so much. The elderly and people who have debilitating diseases are those who are at most risk for heat-related illnesses."
Besides sunburns and dehydration, the American Red Cross said the heat can cause several conditions, which range from uncomfortable to life threatening and come in stages.
•Heat cramps - Muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion, usually involving abdominal muscles and/or legs.
•Heat Exhaustion - Typically occurs when people exercise heavily or where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. This fluid loss causes blood flow to decrease in the vital organs, resulting in a form of shock. Sweat does not evaporate normally and, as a result, the body is not cooled properly. Signals include cool, moist, pale, flushed or red skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion.
•Heat Stroke - Can be life threatening. When a person is suffering from heat stroke, his or her temperature control system - which produces sweating to cool the body - stops working. The body temperature can rise to a point where brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Signals include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature may also be very high.
Chumbley said that while some of these illnesses, such as heat stroke, are more common in larger cities with hotter climates, there is an increase among certain groups during the summer in the Tri-Cities region.
"We do do see a lot of heat-related illness in the summer," said. Chumbley. "The heat-related illness that we do see (here), we see more heat exhaustion. And it's more of the younger people who are out working in hot environments out in the sun - the guys who are doing roofing and paving jobs, landscaping, working in factory-type industries in hot environments who aren't staying well hydrated."
The best form of treatment for heat-related illness is prevention. Chumbley and the Red Cross offer tips for staying cool this summer.
•Wear proper clothing. Choose lightweight and light colored clothing in natural fibers. Wear a hat with a wide brim to provide shade for the face.
•Drink plenty of water and sports drinks, which can help replace salts lost during physical activity. Do not wait until feeling thirsty to consume fluids. Avoid alcohol and drinks containing caffeine, as they can contribute to the dehydration process.
•Instead of consuming large meals, choose smaller meals and eat more often. Avoid lots of high-protein foods since they can increase metabolic heat.
•Avoid strenuous activity and take plenty of breaks when engaging in any type of physical activity. If you must perform strenuous activity, try to avoid the hottest part of the day, which is generally between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
•Avoid too much sun exposure and wear sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor rating). Sunburns can actually slow the body's ability to cool itself, which can lead to other heat-related illnesses. It is also important, however, to know possible problems, recognize the symptoms and know what to do if those symptoms present themselves.
•Take plenty of breaks and get out of the sun, even if on an outing or at an outdoor event.
"If you go to the Gray Fair, for example, or to Dollywood, you've got to make sure your family members are drinking plenty of water and getting into some air-conditioned buildings every once in a while to cool down," Chumbley said. "It's nice to take our families to events - whether we take them to outdoor picnics or summer events that we have outdoors - but you've got to make sure you're watching out for them and keeping them cool."
Recognizing the symptoms of heat-related illness and taking action are also essential.
The Red Cross said persons exhibiting symptoms of heat cramps or heat exhaustion, and who are fully awake and alert, should rest in a cool area, drink small amounts of cool water or sports drink every 15 minutes and stretch the affected area. If the person vomits or loses consciousness, call 9-1-1 immediately.
If a someone is exhibiting the signs of heat stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. Move the victim to a cooler area and try to cool his or her body by wrapping it in wet sheets and fanning vigorously. If available, apply ice packs to wrists and ankles, in the armpits and on the neck.
Information from the Mayo Clinic indicates that older adults, individuals who are overweight and those born with an impaired ability to sweat are more vulnerable to heat-related illness, as are those individuals on certain medications. These individuals should practice extra care when in the sun.
For more information on preventing heat-related illness, visit www.redcross.org or www.mayoclinic.com.