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Riding the heat wave can be dangerous

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE -- As temperatures hover around the century mark, heat-related illnesses are a serious concern that cannot be taken lightly. Nearly 400 people a year die from heat exposure.
   "Having a heat related illness can be prevented, yet many people are affected each year by the heat. Watching out for our wingman as well as yourself is the key in prevention," said Staff Sgt. Tammy Vuycankiat, 72nd Medical Group noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Education and Training.
   Local forecasters expect heat index values in Oklahoma to consistently soar between 105-115 degrees and, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, temperatures may be even higher.
   The EPA's 2006 Excessive Heat Events Guidebook suggests that heat index results often assume measurements are taken in a shaded location with a light wind. As a result, exposure to direct sunlight can increase heat index values by up to 15 degrees. Exposure to hot dry winds can further increase risks by promoting rapid dehydration.
   Increased temperature, relative humidity and dry, hot winds are all conditions that can contribute to an elevated risk for heat-related illnesses.
   "People suffer heat-related illness when their body cannot compensate for the heat and cannot naturally cool itself. The body's normal response for cooling is to sweat. When body temperatures rise rapidly, the body cannot compensate and therefore, vital organs can be damaged," Sgt. Vuycankiat said.
   Mild symptoms of heat exhaustion include thirst, fatigue and cramps in the leg or abdomen.
   Heat cramps occur when the body sweats and loses the level of salt and moisture to maintain efficient electrolytes in the body. Heat exhaustion symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vomiting and decreased alertness.
   "Heat exhaustion is one illness that can take several days of exposure to high temperatures to develop or can occur when heat cramps are not treated in a timely manner," Sgt. Vuycankiat said.
   A heat stroke occurs when the body is completely unable to regulate its temperature. Severe symptoms can include liver, kidney and brain damage.
   To treat the signs and symptoms of any heat related illness. Sgt. Vuycankiat said the first step is to get the individual away from the environment in which they were exposed and let them rest. Then, loosen any tight clothing, give the individual sips of something to drink with high sodium levels such as Gatorade, cool the victim off by fanning them, and lastly if treatment does not work, call medical direction immediately.
   Physical and economic constraints can also increase risks. During extreme heat, it can be difficult for some people to increase their circulation and perspiration to keep cool.
   Some at-risk groups include infants, elderly and obese people along with those with medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes or who are taking certain medications for things such as high blood pressure or depression. Sgt. Vuycankiat warns that even the most healthy and fit person can suffer from a heat-related illness if neglect to treat the signs and symptoms.
   Economically disadvantaged people may be at a higher risk if their homes lack air-conditioning or they are unable to use available air-conditioning because of the expense.
   The location of a home can also affect heat conditions. Upper floors of buildings feel the effects of rising heat and can be harder to cool. Urban areas can also be a heat trap because of heavy, dark pavement that absorbs heat and tall buildings with dark roofs that reduce air flow.
   Some simple ways to prevent adverse reactions to heat include:
· Wear light-colored, lightweight fabrics that limit direct sun exposure.
· Stay hydrated. If it is necessary to be outdoors, start drinking fluids several hours before.
· Eat light meals. Eating hot, heavy foods will increase the metabolic rate and raise body heat.
· Do not drink alcohol. It is a diuretic and reduces perspiration and also can impair judgment.
· Limit outdoor activities during the heat of the day.