Summer, when it arrived, landed much more suddenly than usual this year, tossing local residents from a cool wet spring into the hot frying pan of an Iowa summer.
Taking care to stay cool, hydrated and safe is of special concern.
Dr. Janet Secor, of Fort Dodge, stresses prevention in the battle to not overheat.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge firefighter Devan Schipper demonstrates the use of one of the best weapons available against the summer heat — water — and plenty of it.
The biggest "must" is replacing the water your body loses when it sweats in its endeavor to keep cool.
"Water is the drink," Secor said.
There are beverages to avoid.
Humans are not the only ones susceptible to heat. Pets can easily become overheated and fall ill as well. This is especially true of an animal left inside a vehicle. Even with the window open partially, a car can quickly heat up to the point where it can kill an animal. The same precautions that apply to humans apply to pets: plenty of water, plenty of shade, a cool area to be in and activity curtailed or restricted to the morning or evening hours.
"Pop, coffee, tea and alcohol," she said.
The reason for avoiding these is simple; beverages with caffeine and alcohol act as a diuretic, flushing water from the body through the urinary tract which, when combined with sweating, means dehydration can occur quickly.
Clothing choices are important too.
"Light colors repel heat, " Secor said. "Dark absorbs it."
Choose clothing that is loosely fitted and breathable. The right hat is also a good idea. Secor recommends headgear that covers and provides shade for the ears.
The timing of any outdoor excursions can make a difference too, she said, because it's coolest in the mornings and in the evenings. For example, schedule work such as gardening around the weather,
"Maybe weed it at 7 a.m. or at night," she said. "Don't go out if you don't have to."
Some people are more at risk for heat-related problems than others, according to Secor. One of the factors that determines that is age.
"Any person that's older has less ability to sense when they're overloaded with heat," she said.
People who are mentally or physically impaired, children, or anyone who is overweight falls into this category.
When Mother Nature turns up the heat, medication can also present problems.
"Certain medications predispose you to heat issues," Secor said. "The most common are diuretics and some blood pressure medication."
Secor suggests people contact their physician if they are taking medication but don't know how it affects their ability to deal with heat.
Some people are simply used to the heat, Secor said. Others, not so much.
"You don't want to take somebody from northern Alaska and put them in an Iowa cornfield in July," she said.
Heat-related issues come in these two basic classifications:
Heat stress - the less severe of the two;
Heat stroke - the more dangerous of the two.
Heat stress symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, dizziness or light-headedness or even fainting.
Heat stroke includes all of those symptoms, but also includes a more severe mental confusion and an elevated temperature. In its severe form, heat stroke can include seizures and muscle breakdown.
Treatment begins with the recognition of the symptoms, either by the victim or those around them. Many people have a tendency to ignore the headache or other first symptoms, Secor said.
"Get them out of the sun and into a sensible environment," she said.
The next step is water, water and more water.
Even if an outdoor activity includes such cooling fun as spending time in the water, that's not enough.
"You have the water on the outside," she said. "You need to put it on the inside."
In the case of severe symptoms, or if the victim doesn't respond to a cool environment and water, seek medical attention, Secor advised.
Lt. Jeff Hill, with the Fort Dodge Fire Department, said his agency sees plenty of heat-related calls during the hot summer months. In many cases, it's a result of somebody overdoing it.
"They're doing stuff that's fine on a 60-degree day," Hill said. "On a 95-degree day, all of a sudden they're out for the count."
When rescuers encounter a heat victim, the treatment includes monitoring their vitals, getting them into a cool environment or applying ice packs, starting fluid replacement with an IV and getting the victim to the hospital.
"It's serious," Hill said. "People can die from this."
For him and his fellow firefighters, being prepared to cope with the heat ahead of time is important. Once a call comes in, they have to work in heat-trapping gear regardless of the temperature.
Thus, they drink a lot of water.
"Everybody has a water glass here," Hill said. "We keep hydrated through the day."
Once on a scene, an overheated firefighter is encouraged to cool off.
"We rehab," he said. "You set your tank down and take off your coat, then get some water in you."
One assignment that's particularly hot is HazMat duty.
"We work inside plastic suits," he said. "It gets really hot really fast."
Even in cool weather, vital signs of the firefighter are taken before they don the suits; if they're not within a safe range, the firefighter doesn't get to suit up.
Like Secor, Hill warns against alcohol and caffeine consumption when it is very hot. In addition, he suggests that like the firefighters those who have to be out in the heat take frequent breaks to cool down and double up on - you guessed it - water.