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Cool tips for hot people

With temperatures in the triple digits, Rogue Valley doctors are warning that kids and senior citizens are most at risk from heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

What might be safe for adults in their middle years could prove deadly for those at either end of the age spectrum.

Most kids have more skin surface in comparison to their body mass than adults, meaning they'll pick up more heat from the surrounding environment. Kids sweat less and, pound-for-pound, produce more metabolic heat than adults, according to sports medicine experts.

As for older adults, their internal body thermostat that regulates temperature doesn't work as well, putting them at increased risk, said Dr. Aaron Williams, a physician with Providence Medical Group who specializes in family and sports medicine.

Medical experts warn against exercising outside in the heat of the day or leaving vulnerable kids and older adults in cars. 

Using a handheld digital thermometer, Williams showed how temperatures could soar to 138 degrees inside a van parked Thursday at Providence Medford Medical Center. 

While heat exhaustion is more common, heat stroke is the most dangerous type of heat-related illness.

"That's when your body temperature is over 104 degrees — and that's really life-threatening and dangerous," Williams said.

Excessively high temperatures can damage internal organs and the brain, he said.

The damage is usually reversible if the person is cooled down quickly enough in an emergency department, but some people suffer permanent injury, said Lucas Amuchastegui, a physician assistant at Central Point Family Medicine Walk-In Clinic.

"Most people will bounce back, but unfortunately there are some cases where people will have lasting neurologic damage, much like a more conventional stroke," he said.

Among young people, newborn babies in their first months of life are at the highest risk, said Whitney Serafini, a Providence Medical Group nurse practitioner.

"It's really important to pay attention to newborns. Their thermo-regulation isn't as good as in older kids. They can't tell you when they're hot," she said.

Serafini said adults should also keep a closer eye on disabled kids, especially if they are nonverbal.

Warning signs of heat exhaustion include lethargy, fatigue, reduced energy, headaches, feeling light-headed, cramps and confusion.

Treatment includes getting the person out of the heat and into a cool area, providing water or drinks such as Gatorade that replenish electrolytes, removing clothing and taking a cool shower. Fluids may be administered intravenously if needed, Williams said.

Signs of heat stroke include headache, a body temperature of 104 degrees or higher, altered behavior or mental state, nausea, vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing and a fast heart rate.

Heat stroke requires fast action, such as putting someone in a cold shower or ice bath, Williams said.

"You've got to get their core temperature down below 104," he said.

Prevention is the best approach when it comes to staying safe when temperatures spike.

Williams advises drinking twice as much water as you think you need. Exercise in the morning and evening, when temperatures are more moderate. If you have to be outside in the heat of the day, hydrate in advance and bring plenty of fluids.

"It is still OK to be outside — you just have to be smart about it," he said.

Meanwhile, professionals from the Brookdale Eagle Point retirement community are fanning out to deliver free cold drinks, fruit and other cooling items — along with information on heat safety —  to local seniors in their homes. They are also inviting seniors to relax and take part in social activities in an air-conditioned environment at the retirement community, located at 261 Loto St., Eagle Point.

Staff members are also taking hydration packs to local fire, police and ambulance personnel to deliver on calls. Churches are receiving the packs, as well.

Although people 65 and older make up a minority of the population, they account for the majority of heat-related fatalities, according to Brookdale.

“Aging affects the body’s ability to regulate temperatures,” said Kim Estes, senior vice president of clinical services for Brookdale. “Seniors are also more likely to have chronic health conditions and to be taking medications that make them more susceptible to the heat.”

High temperatures can pose a special danger for people with Alzheimer’s, who may not recognize thirst symptoms or know how to protect themselves from sun and heat, Brookdale staff members said.

“It’s important for seniors to stay hydrated, limit exertion during the hottest part of the day and take other measures to avoid becoming overheated,” said Ashley Pine, executive director of Brookdale Eagle Point. “People who care for older adults may need to encourage their loved ones to drink enough fluids and protect themselves from the hot sun.”

To recommend a senior for a free home visit and cooling supplies, call 541-830-0355.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Providence Medical Group physician Aaron Williams takes a temperature reading of more than 138 degrees in a van parked atop the hospital's parking structure. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]