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Severe heat brings danger

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Not surprisingly, hot temperatures have been continuing to broil Southwest Georgia in recent weeks. And it has prompted, as it does every year, public health officials to warn about the dangers of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

"Heat stroke is the most serious, but heat exhaustion is significant as well," said Brenda Greene, deputy director of the Southwest Public Health District. "The main thing is to prevent these things."

The signs of heat exhaustion typically include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, headache, weakness, or pale and clammy skin. More serious cases can result in nausea or fainting.

"If these symptoms persist, medical care is needed," Greene advised.

Heat stroke is diagnosed based on a body temperature of 103 degrees. The symptoms include dizziness; hot, dry skin with no sweating; nausea; confusion; a throbbing headache, and a strong, rapid pulse.

"Some people may loss consciousness," Greene said. "The main thing is to get hydrated or cool the body down. Do whatever you can do to bring the body temperature down."

Heat exhaustion might not necessarily progress to heat stroke, but it is possible.

"Just make sure symptoms improve quickly, Greene advised.

The primary difference between the two conditions is the perspiration factor.

"With heat exhaustion, you are perspiring, but with heat stroke, you are no longer sweating," the deputy director explained. "(With heat stroke), you are unable to sweat.

"Heat stroke can even progress to death, so it is serious when it progresses to heat stroke."

Greene suggests the same prevention methods most experts do -- staying in air-conditioned rooms, staying in the coolest room in the house, staying in public areas that are cool, and avoiding the sun from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Drinking fluids is also a good method, as long as they are not caffeinated or alcoholic.

"Those drinks can cause dehydration," Greene said.

Officials also suggest checking on the elderly or people without air conditioning.

"The elderly might not have that feeling of thirst, or their medications might affect their response to heat," Greene. "Remind them to stay hydrated."

Because it still happens, Greene did make a plea concerning leaving children in hot cars.

"The temperature can rise in just a few minutes," she said. "It happens, so anything people can do to remind themselves (not to leave a child in the car)...

"They say that if temperatures are in the low to mid-70s, the temperature can jump up in the car by 19 degrees in just 10 minutes."

In Southwest Georgia, high temperatures are accompanied by high humidity. In periods of high humidity, sweat does not evaporate as quickly -- which interferes with the body's cooling process. The result is a person's body temperature rapidly rising.

Since it is hot here in the summer, and there are many people in the region that spend a lot of time outside, heat-related illness is a problem in Southwest Georgia.

Even so, based on recent activity at the emergency rooms of Albany's two hospitals, many people here are used to it.

"We have experienced no significant increase in heat-related emergencies," Todd Braswell, emergency center director of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, said in an emailed statement. "Due to acclimatization most residents in this region are used to the heat and therefore we don't see a lot of heat-related emergencies regularly.

"It does happen however, particularly with increased activity (such as with athletic camps)."

Eric Riggle, spokesman for Palmyra Medical Center, told The Albany Herald that there has been no unusual activity in relation to heat-related illnesses at that hospital's emergency room.