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Children, elderly, pets at most risk from heat

COVINGTON -- While heat exhaustion and heat stroke can affect anyone, children, the elderly and animals are particularly susceptible.

It's important to keep a close watch on the young, the old and the furry during times of extreme heat.

Kids

Dr. Lisa Miller, a local pediatrician, said children don't adjust to heat as well as adults. The amount of blood pumped during exercise is less in children than adults, so there is less ability to move heat to the skin. In other words, kids generate more heat than adults during exercise -- up to 20 to 25 percent more heat for their body weight than adults.

Also, children have immature sweating mechanisms and sweat less than adults, so they have less ability to get rid of heat by evaporation of sweat, according to the American Pediatrics Academy. Children who are overweight are at even greater risk.

Children also don't have the drive to drink to satiate thirst the way that adults do.

Miller recommends that children who are outside drink at least every 20 minutes, preferably water or a sports drink with electrolytes.

"Stop and make them drink even if they say they don't feel thirsty. They'll tell you, 'I'm not thirsty. I feel fine,'" she said.

Getting sunburned decreases the ability of sweat glands to perform, so it's important to make sure children are wearing sunscreen and stay in the shade as much as possible. Hours outside should be limited between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the hottest part of the day. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

Babies under six months should not be taken out in the sun if at all possible. If they are taken out, they should be dressed in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and brimmed hats that shade the neck to prevent sunburn. A small amount of sunscreen can be applied to areas like the face and back of hands. If an infant gets sunburn, apply cold compresses to the affected area.

Elderly

Like children, the elderly do not adjust well to changes in temperature. They are more likely to have a medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat or take prescription medicines that impair the body's ability to regulate temperature or inhibit perspiration.

Newton County Senior Services recommends that seniors stay out of direct sun and heat and minimize physical activity. They should also wear lightweight clothing and take cool baths or showers to cool down.

Drinking at least six to eight glasses of fluids each day can replenish fluid losses. Senior Services recommends keeping a few bottles of water in the freezer that can be moved to the refrigerator if the power goes out.

Eating cool, light foods regularly can also help seniors keep cool. Salads, fresh fruit, whole grain products and cheeses are good choices for summer meals. Avoid using ovens. Also, avoid salt tablets, unless directed to take them by a physician.

Close curtains and windows in the morning to keep the sun and heat out of the home. Keep electric lights off or turned down. Those without air conditioning should go to a cool place such as a senior center, public library or shopping mall.

Senior Services also recommends developing a buddy system with family, friends and neighbors who can check in with seniors at least twice a day during hot weather. Those in the buddy system should plan what to do in an emergency.

Seniors who suspect they need medical attention should call 911 immediately.

Animals

Pets are people, too, at least when it comes to heat endurance. It's not true that they can withstand more than humans.

"It's very easy for them to overheat because they can't sweat. All they have is to pant to cool their bodies. Sometimes it's just too hot these days we're living in right now to have them outside. If possible, take them inside, just like you would treat yourself," said Teri Key-Hooson, director of Newton County Animal Control. Just like with humans, elderly and very young animals are more at risk for overheating.

If animals are kept outside, make sure they have shelter that is in the shade.

"A shelter in the middle of the sun is like an oven," Key-Hooson said.

Key-Hooson also recommends putting a block of ice along with some water in a pet's water bowl so that it will melt throughout the day.