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Jul-20-2006 10:26printcomments

Oregon's Busiest ER Offers Heat-Safety Tips

How to handle the heat is top priority during these dog days of summer

image: girl sunburned
Parents especially need to get sunblock on their kids before going into the sun. Photo by Shawn Wright

(SALEM) - Salem Hospital will see more than 100,000 patients at its ER and Urgent Care Center this year, making it the busiest in the state.

The staff and physicians of the hospital's emergency department offer these tips to help you stay safe and what to do if you have problems in the heat. Stay well hydrated.

Aim for two to three quarts of fluid per day.

• Water is good, but don't limit your intake to just water. You also need electrolytes, which you can get from a variety of sports drinks.

• Caffeine beverages and sodas with caffeine dehydrate you. Since the goal is to stay well hydrated, stay away from caffeine.

If you're thirsty, you've waited too long.

• One way to tell if you're getting enough fluid is to look at your urine. It should be clear. Yellow urine means you need to drink more water.

• Limit alcohol intake during hot weather. It doesn't count toward your water consumption and it can impair your judgment. Be smart about your outdoor activities

Unless your job requires you to be outdoors, stay inside.

• If you have to be outdoors, avoid strenuous activities between the hottest times of the day, typically 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

• If you need to be outdoors, prime the pump before you go. In other words, start your fluid intake before you take your first step outside.

Wear sun block and a hat.

• Use a water spritzer to cool off. Battery-operated, hand-held fans may also be helpful. Some people need extra precautions.

• "Before the day is over, call your mom and check on her," says Ginny Posey, emergency-department director. High heat can cause people to be confused. So be sure to check on your elderly relatives or neighbors to see how they're doing.

• The very young and the elderly are most susceptible to thermal-regulation problems. Their bodies simply have a harder time regulating heat. They especially should avoid the outdoors and manage their fluid intake. This is also true for people with chronic illnesses, like those on dialysis.

• Children can become dehydrated much more quickly than adults. Be sure they get enough fluid and follow all heat and sun-safety procedures.

• Don't overdress your newborn. If you're wearing a tank top and shorts, then a similar outfit for your baby is appropriate, whether it be a shorts outfit or simply a t-shirt and diaper. Stay in the shade. Use a lukewarm washcloth to cool baby. And carry a blanket to protect the baby when you enter air-conditioned extremes.

• Some medications can cause problems during heat spells, particularly some psychiatric medications and diuretics. Talk with your pharmacist if you have concerns.

Be safe in the water

• When it gets hot, you may be tempted to jump in the river to cool off. Be careful. Remember, Oregon rivers are cold, even on hot days.

• Wear a life jacket on the boat and in the river. • Do not consume alcohol.

• Children need close parental supervision in the water, as do some people who have mental or physical disabilities.

• If you have a home pool, make sure it has a fence around it.

Warning signs and what to do if you experience them

• Heat illness progresses through three stages: heat cramps, then exhaustion, then heat stroke. If you experience heat cramps, you'll have muscle cramps and feel dizzy. You need to get in the shade and use a cold compress and take fluids.

• In heat exhaustion, you'll sweat profusely, and be pale. You need to get in the shade, and use a cold compress and fluids. IV fluids may be needed.

• "If you are having a heat stroke, you will be very pale and have a fever. You won't be able to sweat and you will be mentally confused. Your body core temperature has gotten too high. Call 9-1-1! ," says Dawn Leighton, M.D., an emergency physician with Salem Hospital.

Heat related illness can cause serious problems. You can reduce your chance of feeling tired or becoming seriously ill with a few simple steps.


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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.