Staying Safe in Extreme Florida Heat

By Courtney Harris

Outlook Writer

The National Weather Service says heat index values are expected to be consistently high throughout the summer. With heat indexes reaching upwards of 100 degrees, Florida residents should be aware of the dangers that come with failing to prepare for the heat.

Helina Lovell, a licensed practical nurse, emphasizes the importance of taking the necessary precautions in the extreme heat.

“Before doing any activities (or) exercises in the heat, make sure to stretch and pre-hydrate your body,” Lovell said. “Wear light clothing and no layers. Your body needs to sweat. Sweating is our body’s natural cooling mechanism.”

Various heat related illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rash.

Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat-related illness, and it happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures.

“Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death,” said registered nurse Judith Walton. “Call 911 immediately if you are experiencing any of the warning signs.”

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst and heavy sweating.

Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours.

Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments.

“Now if you start having nausea, seizures or confusion, stop immediately and call 911,” Lovell said. “When experiencing any of these symptoms the goal is to cool the body as fast as possible; place ice packs under the arms and on the back of the neck or, if possible, submerge (the) body in an ice bath to bring the body’s core temperature down so you don’t stroke.”

Officials say people should avoid spending excessive time outdoors and should drink plenty of water, wear light clothing and stay out of direct sunlight if possible.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also reminds outdoor workers to rest in shady or air conditioned areas to avoid heat stroke.

“I work every day outside, and I’ve seen people pass out in this heat before,” said Alexander Jones, a collector operator. “I just try to make sure that I’m wearing a hat or something to cover my head and I drink lots of water, and when I feel myself getting too hot or light headed I try to take a break.”

These illnesses are not limited to outdoor workers; those in an overly heated indoor facility are not excluded.

Tips to avoid indoor occupational heat exposure are increase the general ventilation; cooling fans; insulate any hot surfaces, such as furnace walls, and eliminate any possible steam leaks.

With the extreme heat throughout Florida, residents are also encouraged to check on elderly relatives to ensure they are staying hydrated, and never leave children or pets in hot vehicles.