Consider physical needs before heatwaves worsen
Writer: Ms. Linda M. Breazeale, MSU Extension Service
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippians love their air conditioners, but an over-reliance could leave people at greater risks during power outages triggered by heat waves.
The hottest days of summer can tax power grids and individual air conditioning units. Backup plans can ease the discomfort and even save lives if brownouts occur or air conditioners break. Brownouts are drop in voltage in an electrical power supply system. They can be intentionally arranged by the power company to reduce the load on the overall power system, or they can be unintentionally caused by overloads or overuse of power.
David Buys, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said people should have a plan for staying cool if power goes out for an extended time.
“Plans could include staying at the homes of friends or family with adequate air conditioning, or people could simply spend the hottest parts of the day in stores, movie theaters or libraries,” Buys said. “Children will be ready for swimming pools or water parks. Adults can also enjoy the water or the view from nearby shaded areas. Anytime people are outside, they need to use sunscreen that is at the level of SPF 30 or higher.”
Whether people are resting or engaged in physical activity, ample water intake is essential during heat waves.
“Drinks without caffeine, alcohol or high sugar contents are best for keeping people hydrated and well,” he said.
Anne-Howard Hilbun-Benoit, an instructor with the MSU Extension Center for Government and Community Development, said emergency preparations are always in the best interest of individuals and communities.
Hilbun-Benoit encouraged checking emergency kits before power losses or other problems occur. Supplies should include nonperishable food, water (minimum of 3 gallons per person for a three-day supply), first aid supplies, flashlights, extra batteries, fully charged cellphones and other items important for individual needs.
“Check on elderly family, friends and neighbors, as they are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses, especially after any period of without electricity,” she said.
If working outside in the garden, avoid peak heat times and work in the shade as much as possible. Know the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and make sure someone is monitoring those out in the heat.
“Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat-related illness, when sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat,” she said. “Don’t delay calling 911 for professional medical care because it is a medical emergency. Signs include confusion, unconsciousness and seizures.”
Heat exhaustion is a response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, weakness, thirst, dizziness, irritability and heavy sweating.
Although they are not deadly, Hilbun-Benoit said heat cramps and heat rashes are also concerns.
“The loss of body salts and fluid during sweating can cause heat cramps,” she said. “Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin.”