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Article Archive >> Featured Topics

The heat is on

The heat is on
by Jennifer LB Leese

Torrid temperatures have been violating our community for the past few days, with a heat index that will make it feel even hotter. While many are taking refuge indoors, others are taking the rising mercury in stride.
As waves of heat radiate off of the sidewalks throughout Washington County, people look to the shade for shelter. Recently temperatures, by 9am, have reached the 80s, by noon it's high nineties, and by one it's capping 100.
Well over a hundred this past week, local schools have started their outdoor practices, i.e. football, soccer, baseball, band, field hockey, softball, etc.
The Washington County Board of Education has issued a "Summer guidelines for student activities" report, stating that "all full band practice sessions and all full team athletic practices in the summer are restricted to two, two-hour sessions outside, whether on or off school property", and that "special attention should be paid to the heat and humidity index", available through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Board also advises directors, coaches, and supervisors to adjust practice sessions as weather conditions change, enforcing mandatory water breaks and hydration. "If Code Purple exists, all practices are to be cancelled."
"The health and well being of our students is of utmost importance, especially during the extreme conditions we've experienced recently," according to Ed Masood, Supervisor of Fine Arts, Health & Physical Education and Athletics. "We urge responsibility and common sense on the part of all participants."
Health officials are advising people to drink lots of water, stay out of the midday sun, if possible, and check on shut-ins. The extreme heat could be dangerous, especially for children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems. Check on them often.
Meteorologists with the National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for the entire week. Hagerstown's highest temperature ever was on July 14, 1954 at 105 degrees. We've come very close to that record this past week.
All of Washington County is on extreme heat advisories and warnings.
In Maryland, the state heath officials report that nineteen people have died of heat-related causes this year. And these are the direct casualties. No one can know how many more deaths are advanced by heat wave weather. How many diseased or aging hearts surrender that under better conditions would have continued functioning.
Students aren't the only ones suffering in this heat. "Each year in the United States, approximately 400 deaths are attributed to excessive natural heat; these deaths are preventable," says The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). [See our "What to Know" list below.] "Exposure to excessive heat can cause illness, injury, and death."
As a community, whether you have children participating in these extracurricular activities or not, we all need to be concerned about our children practicing or exerting themselves athletically in this weather.
Usually your body can cool itself by letting heat escape through the skin.
"Human bodies dissipate heat by varying the rate and depth of blood circulation, by losing water through the skin and sweat glands, and-as the last extremity is reached-by panting, when blood is heated above 98.6 degrees. The heart begins to pump more blood, blood vessels dilate to accommodate the increased flow, and the bundles of tiny capillaries threading through the upper layers of skin are put into operation. The body's blood is circulated closer to the skin's surface, and excess heat drains off into the cooler atmosphere. At the same time, water diffuses through the skin as perspiration. The skin handles about 90 percent of the body's heat dissipating function.
"Sweating, by itself, does nothing to cool the body, unless the water is removed by evaporation-and high relative humidity retards evaporation. The evaporation process itself works this way: the heat energy required to evaporate the sweat is extracted from the body, thereby cooling it."
When that fails and "heat gain exceeds the level the body can remove, or when the body cannot compensate for fluids and salt lost through perspiration, the temperature of the body's inner core begins to rise and heat-related illness may develop."
What to know...Safety tips when outside
* Dress for the heat- Wear lightweight, light-colored and loose clothing. Light colors reflect away some of the sun's heat. Wear a hat or use an umbrella.
* Take a cool shower.
* Slow down- Avoid strenuous activity. Limit activity to the coolest part of the day, usually in the morning between 5am and 8am.
* Stay indoors as much as possible.
* Drink plenty of water- Carry water or juice with you and drink even if you don't feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol or caffeine, which dry out the body.
* Eat smaller meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increases your metabolic heat.
* Take regular breaks when active on a hot day- If you or someone else is showing signs of a heat-related illness, stop the activity and find a cool place to rest.
* Replace Salt and Minerals. Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These are necessary for your body and must be replaced. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. However, if you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage or taking salt tablets.
* Use a buddy system. When working in the heat, monitor the condition of your co-workers and have someone do the same for you. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness. If you are 65 years of age or older, have a friend or relative call to check on you twice a day during a heat wave. If you know someone in this age group, check on them at least twice a day.
* Lastly, use common sense.
Where to go...
* If you have to go outside, seek shade; stay out of the sun if possible. Try to limit your activity to morning or evening hours.
* Find a place with air conditioning or running fans.
* Get wet. Go swimming or take a bath.
* Movie theaters, grocery stores, libraries and malls usually are well air-conditioned. Even a few hours in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
Signs and symptoms of a heat-related illness:
* Heat cramps can happen because of loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Heat cramps can cause muscle pain and spasms, but are not as serious as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
* Heat exhaustion symptoms include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature may be near normal.
* Heat stroke symptoms may include hot, red skin; fainting or passing out; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be 105 degrees or higher.
* Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke can become serious and even deadly if not taken care of right away.
No matter what the mercury measures everyone has their own remedy for staying cool, but most just try to make the best of the weather and hope relief is on its way.

Source: National Weather Service
Washington County Board of Education
The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

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