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Be Aware of Heat-Related Health Dangers

Be Aware of Heat-Related Health Dangers

Residents of Santa Barbara County have had plenty of practice dealing with high temperatures this summer – with a number of heatwaves already descending on our region in the past few months. And this weekend brings another one.

Temperatures in the Lompoc Valley are expected to hover in the 80 to 90-degree range for the next few days, with some areas in the North County hitting well above the 100-degree mark.

Health officials want people to be aware of the potential dangers as well. The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department issued a Health Alert due to the National Weather Service’s Excessive Heat Warning. The warning runs from 10 a.m. Saturday to 8 p.m. Sunday.

What why does it matter? Well, if you’re not careful, increased temperatures can mean the onset of health concerns such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and the more dangerous heat stroke.

  • Heat Cramps: Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms caused by heavy exertion. You may know you’re getting heat cramps if you start getting abdominal and leg muscle pain. To get rid of the cramps, you may find relief by putting firm pressure on the cramping muscles or by doing a gentle massage on the spot.
  • Heat Exhaustion: This condition is more serious than heat cramps but less dangerous than heatstroke. Heat exhaustion occurs when you exercise too heavily during a heatwave or work in warm, humid environments where your body loses fluids. You may realize you have heat exhaustion if your skin gets cool, moist, or flushed, or if you start sweating heavily. Other signs include a headache, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, and exhaustion. If you start to get these symptoms, get out of the sun, and apply cool, wet cloths to your body.
  • Heat Stroke: Sometimes, this condition is called sunstroke. Heatstroke can be life-threatening. If you get heatstroke, your body temperature can rise to unsafe levels, and it may cause brain damage. If your body is not cooled quickly in this situation, it may cause life-threatening problems. You may be experiencing heatstroke if your skin is hot, red, and dry. You may start to have changes in your consciousness level and experience shallow breathing. Your pulse will be weak and rapid at this stage. To get your body temperature lowered, take a cold bath, or sponge your body with cold water.

There are a number of things you can do to prevent these conditions from occurring during times of high temperatures. During the sun’s peak hours, for instance, you can slow down or postpone strenuous activity -- especially from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

You should, of course, try to stay out of the direct sun. Getting sunburn will slow your ability to cool itself, and the sun also heats the inner core of your body, leading to dehydration. Remember to wear a hat to protect your scalp and face and apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater.

While drinking fluids is important all the time, during the heatwave it becomes even more critical. Drink at least 2-to-4 glasses of water per hour during the times of the most extreme heat, even if you’re not thirsty. Remember, drinking a lot does not mean beverages containing alcohol or caffeine – drink water.

When you’re having meals during a heatwave, try to stick to fruits and vegetables. Eating protein will increase your metabolic heat, which causes water loss. Stay away from particularly salty food.

This weekend is also a particularly important time to remind people not to leave children, pets, or those with special needs in a parked vehicle for any length of time. Temperatures in an enclosed car can quickly reach in excess of 140 degrees – which is not survivable for most people. This year already, 21 children have died in the U.S. from being left in a hot car. In 2019, the total number was 52, while 2018 logged 53 child car deaths.

Also consider checking in on neighbors during a heatwave, particularly those who are elderly or have special needs. Look for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke and offer aid of you suspect they are in danger.

Source: Santa Barbara Fire Department and Santa Barbara County Public Health Department