On occasion, the Pacific Northwest will endure bouts of extremely hot summer weather. Unless prepared, the health of many residents - especially the ailing, elderly or very young populations -could suffer during these heat spells. Staying cool and making simple changes in activities, fluid intake and clothing choices can help everyone remain safe.
Multnomah County Aging and Disability Services (ADS) and the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM) are encouraging residents to follow these tips:
- Drink plenty of fluids and avoid liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar (these actually cause you to lose more body fluid)
- Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen
- Schedule outdoor activities carefully and pace yourself if you are working or exercising
- Do not leave children or pets in cars
Strenuous activities on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses. Here is a list of heat-related illnesses and what you can do to prevent them:
Heat cramps are often the first sign you are overheated and may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms, usually in the abdomen, arms or legs, that may occur when the body is depleted of salt and moisture. If you or someone you are with are experiencing heat cramps, you should:
- Stop what you are doing and find a cool place to rest
- Drink clear juice or a sports drink
- Don't return to your activity until a few hours have passed after the cramps subside
- Seek medical attention if heat cramps don't subside after 1 hour
Heat exhaustion is the body's response to a large loss of water and salt in your body. Warning signs include shallow and fast breathing, clammy skin, heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness and nausea, vomiting and/or fainting. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. If you are someone near you is experiencing heat exhaustion:
- Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages
- Rest in a cool or air-conditioned space
- Take a cool shower or bath
If symptoms get worse or last longer than 1 hour you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
Heat stroke occurs when the body's temperature rises rapidly and can't cool itself down. This is a life-threatening emergency and you should seek medical assistance immediately. Warning signs can vary but may include:
- An extremely high body temperature (generally above 103 F)
- Red, hot and dry skin
- No sweating
- Rapid, strong pulse
While waiting for emergency services to arrive you can:
- Get the victim to a cool, shady place
- Cool the victim rapidly using ice packs, cool water or a cool bath or shower
- Check the body temperature regularly to see if it starts to go down
- Do not give the victim fluids to drink
Sunburn is caused by over-exposure to the sun and is literally a burn on your skin. Symptoms include skin that becomes red, painful and abnormally warm after being exposed to the sun and may include blistering. If you are sunburned you should:
- Contact your doctor if you experience a fever, fluid-filled blisters or severe pain
- Avoid further exposing the sunburn to more sun
- Apply cold compresses or immerse the sunburned area in cool water
- Do not break blisters
- Wear sunscreen!
Where can you go to stay cool?
Cooling centers are opened sparingly and only during the most extreme heat events in Multnomah County and throughout the Portland Metro area. During less extreme heat events, residents are encouraged to use these resources for staying cool:
- Visit local air-conditioned locations (including Loaves & Fishes Meal Sites, Shopping Malls, Multnomah County Libraries, Direct Senior Center Services Offices and Community Centers)
- Dial 2-1-1 on your phone or visit 211Info.org to find cooling resources nearest you
Plan for hot weather
Consider having a “cooling plan.” This is most critical for: 1) older adults, 2) people with disabilities or 3) people with health conditions who are at increased risk for heat-related illnesses.
Officials at Multnomah County Aging and Disability Services encourage vulnerable people to take the following steps:
- Think about where you can go to beat the heat. If not at a family member’s or neighbor’s air-conditioned house, then perhaps at a nearby senior center, public library, shopping mall (see links to those locations at the bottom of this article).
- Use the buddy system. Make plans with a friend or neighbor to check on each other, or travel together to a cooler location.
- Shop and compare prices for fans or air conditioners before the weather gets too hot and supplies are scarce.
- If you have access to the web, bookmark the Multnomah County Aging and Disability Services website for the most current listings of air conditioned spaces.
- Keep this number handy: 503-988-3646 or TTY at 503-988-3683. The Multnomah County Aging and Disability Services Helpline has resources for older adults and people with disabilities, including a list of senior centers, transportation services and 24-hour crisis intervention.
Don't forget your pets!
Fido and Fluffy need to keep cool, too. Make sure your pets have plenty of fresh, clean water, a shady place to get out of the sun, and be careful not to over-exercise them. Most importantly, do not leave them in a parked car. Here are some of the warning signs your pet may have a heat-related illness: