Preventing heat injuries can save lives


(SAVANNAH) A pair of emergency rooms in the Hostess City report the number of heat injuries treated rise when the heat index goes up. Since the official start of summer, St. Joseph/Candler hospitals have already treated a number of people who were heat injury patients. St. Joseph emergency room physician, Dr. Jeffery Kenney says geography plays a big role in Savannah, hampering the natural human defense against overheating. “Evaporative cooling. What makes it so hard to cool in Savannah is the high humidity. So in really humid environments the sweat doesn’t evaporate and it’s really, evaporation is one of the main ways your body cools off.” Kenney explained. A 17 year veteran of emergency medicine, Dr. Kenney says no one is immune to heat injury, but there are some people who are more susceptible than others. “The people at highest risk are people doing strenuous activity out in the heat.” said Kenney.

The two other high risk groups are on the opposite sides of the generation gap: the very young and senior citizens. “Infants and children’s bodies haven’t learned to regulate temperatures yet. Elderly people have issues with, uh, medications, ya’ know, being on medications that can decrease your ability to sweat or cool your body…and a lot of times they don’t have access to air conditioning.” Kenney said. Heat injury is progressive and if it’s left untreated it can kill. Dr. Kenny says it almost always begins with profuse sweating. The first painful symptom is muscle cramping called heat cramps. The next stage is heat exhaustion where nausea and vomiting can occur. Heat stroke is the next progression which can begin when sweating stops. “Someone stops sweating, someone’s confused, um, these are signs they may be progressing to that higher level of severity, the heat stroke and that would definitely be someone who should be brought to the hospital for treatment.” he said.

Prevention is the best medicine according to Dr. Kenney. He says people can reduce their risk by reducing their sun exposure on days when the heat index climbs into the 90’s. He also recommends staying in the shade during the hottest hours of the day, Hydration and frequent breaks are key to surviving the Savannah swelter if you have to be outdoors in the heat. If you can, the doctor says people should seek air conditioned environments if possible when the temperatures reach dangerous levels.

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