September 20, 2020

Hot, humid – and hazardous

Baby, it’s hot outside.

According to the National Weather Service in Caribou, the daytime temperature over the weekend will simmer in the low 90s, with enough humidity to make it feel even hotter. Things may cool down a little come Monday and Tuesday – only in the 80s – but it’s still likely to be hotter than northern New Englanders are used to.

“People should slow down a little bit, dress lightly, drink a lot of a water,” said Tony Sturey, warning coordinator at the weather station.

Health care providers get nervous when the mercury soars, confirmed Dr. Norm Dinerman, chief of emergency medicine at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

“We always prepare for an increase in cases of heat cramps, heat stroke, heat exhaustion and sunburn,” Dinerman said Friday. “I’m gratified that we don’t usually see a big surge; it may be that people have gotten the message.”

The message bears repeating: Hot weather is more than uncomfortable – it can be downright dangerous and even life-threatening.

Here are some widely recommended, common-sense tips for staying safe and healthy until the weather turns cooler.

. Drink plenty of fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Plain, cool water is best for most people, but those who perspire heavily may want to try sports beverages that contain trace minerals. Drinks containing caffeine and alcohol trigger urination and make dehydration worse. Alcohol also can blunt judgment and lead to poor decisions about activity and sun exposure, so take it easy at happy hour.

. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing.

. Air conditioning provides the most reliable relief from extreme heat. If you don’t have access to air conditioning, fans provide a steady breeze that will help your body cool down. Use a clean plastic spray bottle to spritz a little water over yourself from time to time. Enjoying a tepid bath or shower is another sure-fire way to cool down.

. If you’re outside for work or play, stay out of the direct sun as much as possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun is the hottest. Wear sunscreen and a brimmed hat. Slow down. Take frequent breaks during strenuous activity.

For the elderly, extremely hot weather is especially dangerous, according to Carol Higgins of the Eastern Agency on Aging in Bangor. Seniors often lose the ability to perspire, and with it, their natural defense against overheating, she said. Elderly people also may dehydrate quickly – but Higgins noted that people on fluid-restricted diets must not consume extra liquids without consulting their physicians.

Frail elderly should stay inside with relatives or neighbors checking in frequently to be sure they’re safe. Visitors should look for electrical cords from fans or air conditioners that may pose a tripping hazard. They also should consider bringing prepared meals that don’t require cooking and check to see that medications are being taken as prescribed.

Other groups are also at special risk when temperatures soar. Certain medications, including a number of anti-psychotic drugs, cause the body to be more susceptible to the heat and sun, so people being treated for mental illnesses should take appropriate measures. And, of course, young children don’t understand the need for precautions and need alert adult supervision to stay safe.

For a sunburn, a tepid bath or shower can offer relief, according to EMMC’s Dinerman. Lotions containing aloe and mild anesthetics are sold without a prescription and are soothing, but he cautioned that overapplying medicated products may cause complications, especially in young children.

Signs of overheating or dehydration may be subtle. Muscle cramps, clammy skin, nausea and vomiting are early indications. Hot, dry skin, a rapid pulse and confusion may herald the potentially life-threatening condition known as heat stroke, Dinerman said.

When in doubt, don’t wait, said Capt. Jack Williams of the Bangor Fire Department. “If you think something’s going on, call 911.”

Hot dogs

Pets, too, suffer in the heat, according to Dawn Weber of the Bangor Humane Society.

“When it’s this hot, leave your pets at home – inside, not outside,” she said. Any animal that must be outdoors is required by law to have access to a shaded shelter and drinking water, she noted.

Be certain your pet has free access to water and don’t overdo playtime, she said. For animals that may get overheated, the equivalent of sports drinks are available at pet stores.

Don’t be tempted to soak your four-legged friend with the garden hose, Weber cautioned. “The worse thing you can do is to wet them down over the back and head,” she said, because the sudden temperature change could send them into shock. Sponging or spritzing tepid water on their armpits and bellies is a safer way to cool down overheated pets.

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