The temperatures are climbing and along with that high heat comes greater risk for those working and playing outdoors, experts say. In fact, the number they say to watch is not so much the temperature but the heat index, which takes into account things such as humidity that can make the impact more severe.
When the heat index tops 90 degrees, it means it can make it more difficult for sweat to evaporate, said Dr. Bo Sherwood, medical director for University Prompt Care.
“The only way you can cool yourself in a natural state, such as outside in the heat, is to sweat. And you need to evaporate the sweat in order for the cooling mechanism to take effect,” he said.
When the humidity is high and the air is saturated, “you just suffocate in your own sweat,” said Jennifer London, an athletic trainer with Doctors Hospital of Augusta.
Problems with heat stress might not be obvious at first, Sherwood said.
“The symptoms and signs are rather subtle,” he said. It can start as just dizziness or a mild headache, London said. As things progress, the person might become confused or disoriented or just act abnormally, said Dr. Jed Ballard, an emergency medicine physician with Augusta University. That’s why when exercising outside, such as a long run, it is best to bring along someone else who can detect if something is going awry, he said.
By far, the best approach is prevention and that means making sure you are well-hydrated beforehand. London suggests starting even an hour or two earlier, if possible, and not waiting until just minutes before heading out.
What you drink makes a difference as well. It is best to avoid anything with caffeine because that can affect the ability to sweat and causes more frequent urination, which works against hydration, Sherwood said. Alcohol is to be avoided for much the same reasons, he said.
Sugary drinks are also more difficult for the body to process, London said. It is also important to keep hydrating once you are in the heat, if possible, Sherwood said.
“Keep replacing that fluid because you are constantly losing it,” he said.
What you wear is also important, Ballard said.
“Wearing a loose, long-sleeved light or reflective T-shirt will do a lot more than even being shirtless out in the sun because your body will absorb those heat rays,” he said. Wearing a hat and sunscreen also helps.
“That will provide a significant amount of protection while you’re out in the sun if you have to be out in it,” Ballard said.
While the signs of heat stress can seem subtle, such as unusual fatigue, it is important to pay attention to them and act accordingly, Sherwood said.
“Those are the really important early signs of heat stress or early heat exhaustion, which if left untreated can move pretty fast over the course of 30 or 45 minutes or less to heat stroke,” he said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Richmond County cooling centers
Richmond County recreation centers serve as cooling centers and are typically open during the day when it is usually hottest, according to city spokesman Jim Beasley. There is an option to open centers on the weekend or after hours when the National Weather Service issues an excessive heat warning, he said. That is generally when the heat index is expected to be at 105 degrees and above for two consecutive days and night temperatures remain at 75 or above, Beasley said.
Bernie Ward Center: 1941 Lumpkin Road, Augusta; (706) 790-0588; 9 a.m.-8 p.m
Blythe Center: 3129 Highway 88, Blythe; (706) 592-4988; 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Carrie J. Mays Center: 1014 11th Ave., Augusta; (706) 821-2827; 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Diamond Lakes Regional Park: 4335 Windsor Spring Road, Hephzibah; (706) 826-1370; 6 a.m.-8 p.m.
Henry H. Brigham Center: 2463 Golden Camp Road, Augusta; (706) 771-2654; 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
May Park: 622 Fourth St., Augusta; (706) 724-0504; 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
McBean Center: 1155 Hephzibah-McBean Road, Hephzibah; (706) 560-2628; 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sand Hills Center: 2540 Wheeler Road, Augusta; (706) 842-1912; 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
W.T. Johnson Center: 1606 Hunter St., Augusta; (706) 821-2866; 9 a.m.-noon
Warren Road Center: 300 Warren Road, Augusta; (706) 860-2833; 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
A list of the county’s cooling centers can also be found at www.augustaga.gov/2124/Shelter-Management
Columbia County cooling centers
Columbia County’s cooling centers have been open since June 1.
Bessie Thomas Community Center: 5913 Euchee Creek Drive, Grovetown; 7 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (Monday-Friday)
Patriots Park: 5445 Columbia Road, Grovetown; 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 1-6 p.m. Sunday
Wesley United Methodist Church: 825 N. Belair Road, Evans; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday
Eubank Blanchard Community Center: 6868 Cobbham Road, Appling; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday
Laurel & Hardy Museum: 250 N. Louisville St., Harlem; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Harlem Senior Center: 405 W. Church St., Harlem; 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Thursday
Liberty Park Community Center: 1040 Newmantown Road, Grovetown; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday
A list can also be found at www.columbiacountyga.gov/government/departments-d-k/emergency-management-agency-ema/columbia-county-cooling-centers
Tips to help you manage the heat
•Drink plenty of fluids well before heading out into the heat, at least an hour or two beforehand, if possible. Try to rehydrate regularly while outside. Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol or sugary drinks. Water or sports drinks with electrolytes are best.
•Wear long-sleeved, loose-fitting and light-colored clothing. Try to use a hat and sunscreen as well.
•Carefully monitor those who are most susceptible to the heat, which are infants and children up to 4 years old and those 65 and older. People with chronic illnesses may also have an impaired ability to regulate heat or more difficulty staying hydrated.
•Try to avoid being outside during the peak hours of the day, which is after 10 a.m. and during the afternoon. If possible, try to schedule activities for early morning or evening.
•If exercising outside, remember that the heat can add additional stress to the body, so adjust your pace accordingly.
•Take a break if possible and try to find some shade. Taking a cool bath or shower can help break up the stress from heat.
Warning signs for heat stress or heat exhaustion can include:
•Flushed skin, cool or moist
•Weakness or exhaustion
To treat, get the person out of the heat and give them fluids. If possible, apply cool wet towels or cloths.
Warning signs for heat stroke can include:
•Very high body temperature
•Reddened skin, which might be very moist or even dry. A person who has stopped sweating in a hot environment might be experiencing heat stroke.
•Rapid, weak pulse
•Confusion or delirium
Seek emergency medical treatment immediately. If possible, immerse the person in cold water up to the head or douse with water. If available, cover the person with bags of ice or towels soaked with ice water.
Source: American Red Cross