'Tis the season for heat injuries


As blistering temperatures continue to soar across much of Colorado, so do the possibilities of health-related injuries and illnesses.

According to the National Weather Service, more than 170 Americans die each year as the result of extreme summer temperatures. Of all the natural hazards, which include lightning, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes and extreme temperatures, only winter cold kills more people each year than summer heat.

The National Weather Service maintains temperatures as low as 80 degrees can pose a potential risk.

According to the service's heat index, temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees can lead to possible fatigue through prolonged exposure and/or physical activity.

Temperatures between 90 and 105 degrees can possibly induce heatstroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion if exposure is combined with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity.

Temperatures between 105 and 130 degrees will likely induce heatstroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion if exposure is combined with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity.

And with temperatures of 130 degrees and higher, heatstroke is very likely with continued exposure.

Susan Bowler, the Visiting Nurse Association public health nurse manager, said it is particularly important that the elderly realize the potential risks that accompany high temperatures.

"Heat disorders are most prevalent in older people because their circulatory systems don't work as effectively," Bowler said. "Heat causes the body to get stressed. And when we get hot, blood will help get rid of the heat."

The National Weather Service points out that the human body dissipates heat three ways: by varying blood circulation rate and depth, by losing water through the skin and sweat glands, and by panting when the blood temperature exceeds 98.6 degrees.

As the body heats, the heart pumps more blood, which is circulated closer to the skin's surface so excess heat can empty into the atmosphere, which is cooler. Simultaneously, water diffuses through the skin in the form of perspiration.

However, perspiration alone does nothing to cool the body unless that water is evaporated. High relative humidity impedes the

evaporation process.

In general, heat disorders are caused by the body's failure to reduce heat through circulatory changes and sweating.

When the body can no longer compensate for heat gain, the body's inner core rises and heat disorders may develop.

Bowler said when it comes to high temperatures, it is important to keep several things in mind.

"Maintaining fluid intake is very important," Bowler said. "Most people don't realize that by the time you feel thirsty, you're already dehydrated.

"It's also important to wear lose clothing and reduce activity. When it's really hot out is not the time to go out and play a game of tennis."

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