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Sunscreen, drinking water help beat the summer heat

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By Calen McKinney

The heat is on.

With temperatures nearly in the 90s last week and expected to be in the mid to high 80s with several chances of storms this week, hot summer weather is in full swing.

Amy Tomlinson, public health services coordinator for the Lake Cumberland District Health Department, to which Taylor County Health Department belongs, said there are many adverse effects a person can experience when they have spent too much time in the sun.

Those include headaches and dizziness or lightheadedness, feeling weak and experiencing mood changes, irritability and confusion. People can also have nausea and vomit, faint and have pale and clammy skin.

"Muscle cramping might be the first sign of heat-related illness, and may lead to heat exhaustion or stroke," she said.

Heat exhaustion and stroke are two potentially dangerous illnesses, Tomlinson said. Exhaustion includes heavy sweating, weakness, cold, pale and clammy skin, fast or a weak pulse, nausea or vomiting and fainting.

To treat heat exhaustion, Tomlinson said, a person should move to a cooler location, apply cool, wet cloths to the body and loosen clothing. They should sip water, she said, and, if conditions don't improve, seek medical attention.

Heat stroke symptoms include a body temperature above 103 degrees, having hot, red, dry or moist skin, having a rapid and strong pulse and possibly being unconsciousness, Tomlinson said.

To treat heat stroke, she said, a person should call 911 immediately because it is a medical emergency. While waiting for medical personnel, the person should apply cool cloths to their body and move to a cooler environment.

The state's Division of Emergency Management recently released some tips to help residents keep cool during the summer months.

According to the news release, heat can make a body work harder to maintain its normal temperature.

Most heat problems happen because someone has overexposed themselves to heat or exercised too much for his or her age or physical condition. According to the release, those who are sick or overweight are more likely to succumb to extreme heat.

Tomlinson said it's important that people limit exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

" ... When the sun's rays are strongest," she said. "Even on an overcast day, up to 80 percent of the sun's UV rays can get through the clouds. Stay in the shade as much as possible throughout the day."

The amount of time a person can spend in the sun varies, Tomlinson said, but those at higher risk for heat-related illness are infants and children up to age 4, those age 65 and older, those who are overweight, sick and those who are taking certain types of medication.

Becky Nash, extension agent for family and consumer sciences, said it's important to keep an eye on the elderly when they are in the sun because they might not be able to tell cold from hot temperatures as well as they used to.

"You need to definitely check on them in tough weather," she said.

She said it's essential that everyone - but especially the elderly and children - drink lots of fluids in the summer.

But she said it's also important that people don't depend on simply being thirsty as a sign of dehydration.

"Thirst is not an indicator of dehydration," she said.

Nash said sunscreen is a great way to help protect the skin from the sun and she recommends everyone wear it when spending time outdoors.

There are some who have more natural pigment in their skin, she said. Those who have blonde and red hair are more prone to freckle, which can damage the skin.

"The sun is stronger now," she said. "The UV rays are strong. There is no such thing as a healthy tan."

Tanning, Nash said, is the body's way of telling a person that their skin is too hot. For those who want to have a tan but don't want to expose themselves to the sun, there are always self-tanning lotions and creams.

"Right now, they appear to be a better alternative to tanning," she said.

Tomlinson said it's important to wear sunscreens with at least 15 SPF, clothing with a tight weave or high SPF rating and wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses and take breaks to rest in the shade.

She said the LCDHD recommends parents remember never leave their children in a hot car and use a buddy system so people can watch each other in an attempt to notice if a person is getting too hot.

According to information provided by the extension office, it's important to do monthly skin exams and see a doctor immediately if there are any changes to skin, moles or freckles.

Those age 20 to 39 should see a doctor every three years and those age 40 and older should see a doctor every year for a skin exam.

According to the information, just one serious sunburn can increase a person's risk for skin cancer by 50 percent.

There are many issues that can impact the skin during the summer, according to the extension office, from sunburn to mosquito bites to poison ivy, oak and sumac, bee stings and jellyfish stings.

Keeping Pets Cool

People aren't the only ones who can suffer from being out in the sun too long. Pets can also become overheated and need treatment to help them cool down.

Taylor County's veterinarians say it's important to be sure pets have water and shade when they are outside.

For dogs, signs they are becoming overheated are pretty obvious, the vets say.

"Just a constant panting that just won't quit," Dr. Keith Andrew of The Animal Hospital said. "Their tongue is hanging out."

Andrew said dogs don't sweat, which is a natural way to cool the body down, so sometimes they can't expel heat well.

"The tongue acts like a radiator to get rid of the heat."

Dr. Terri Pettyjohn of Crossroads Animal Clinic said dogs can also collapse and their eyes appear bloodshot when they become overheated.

"Like he's breathing difficultly," she said. "They simply cannot cool themselves down."

In that case, Pettyjohn said, veterinary care is necessary. She said vets will likely give the dog intravenous fluids, which is the fastest way to cool them.

Tibby Durham, practice manager at Green River Veterinary Services, said owners should move their animals to a cooler area as soon as they see they are becoming overheated. She said extreme heat can be fatal to animals.

Dogs with flatter faces, such as pugs and shih tzus, according to Pettyjohn and Durham, are prone to overheating because their respiratory systems don't function as well as dogs of other breeds.

Andrew says dogs can safely be in the sun if they aren't there for too long at a time.

"Basically, if they have shade and water, they can stand the heat."

Pettyjohn recommends taking animals outside only in the early morning and after sunset. She said dogs can become overheated after going walking or running with their owner during the day. If a dog starts slowing, staggering or lagging behind, she said, the owner should pay attention.

Pettyjohn said it's also important that pet owners pay attention to the humidity and not just temperature. She said owners also shouldn't leave their pets in vehicles during the summer.

If a pet owner believes their dog has become overheated, Andrew said, they can take the dog's temperature with a rectal thermometer. If the temperature is higher than 104 degrees, he said, measures such as a cooling bath need to be taken to cool the dog down.

Vets recommend getting dogs with thick hair sheered in the summer months to help them beat the heat.

But Pettyjohn said she has read that while sheering can eliminate heat spots and matting, fur can also serve as an insulator. She said she has seen dogs appear to feel much better after being sheared, however.

As for cats, the vets say, owners shouldn't worry as much about them being outside in the heat.

"Because they will find a place to stay cool," Andrew said.

For cattle and horses, vets say they recommend any activity with them to be done in the early morning or late night when temperatures cool.

"They will find shade if they have it available," Andrew said. "And most of them do in this area."

Dr. Donald Brockman of Central Kentucky Equine Veterinary Services, said horses can exhibit rapid breathing when getting too hot.

"They may or may not be sweating," he said. "Their skin can get clammy."

The quickest way to cool a horse, Brockman said, is to use rubbing alcohol and ice water and sponge them. He said he doesn't see many overheated horses.

The vets said their clients only occasionally bring in animals that have become overheated.

"Most people are good about taking care of them," Andrew said.