ALLIE DOUGLASS | The Sun
Cherry Childers (left) and Bill Childers (right) of Illinois take a break from their tennis game to cool off and enjoy some cold water Tuesday afternoon in Noble Park. They are always sure to pack plenty of extra water and wear sunscreen when practicing outdoors in the summer time.
ALLIE DOUGLASS | The Sun
Chris Hyde, with the city of Paducah, works with a crew to smooth freshly poured concrete for a new sidewalk Tuesday afternoon in Noble Park. As the temperatures rise from day to day, health officials stress caution for proper heat safety.
Memorial Day marked the unofficial start to summer as schools closed, pools opened and people headed outdoors to enjoy the end of cold weather, but as the sun lingers overhead longer, health officials stress caution as the mercury starts to climb.
Although nowhere near the 90 degree heat wave of last year’s holiday, the final days of May have made it apparent that the relatively cool spring is nearing its end and the temperatures are only getting hotter.
“When there’s heat advisories out and it’s on the TV, people become concerned, but you can easily become dehydrated and somewhat overwhelmed during activities even in the high 80s or low 90s,” said Dr. Jeremy Klope, Lourdes’ Emergency Department medical director.
Much concern for heat illnesses revolves around dehydration and excessive sun exposure, Klope said, and early into the summer, it’s easy for people to forget that prolonged time in the sun will contribute to both. As the summer months progress, it’s not unusual for Klope to treat two or three people per weekend shift for heat-related illnesses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, extreme heat exposure contributed to more than 7,800 deaths in the United States between 1999 and 2009. Excessive heat was also the No. 1 killer among weather related events including tornadoes, hurricanes or floods, between 2000 and 2009.
“The important thing to remember around here is the humidity,” Klope said. “It can feel extremely hot out there, and the extremes of our population — the young and the elderly — can really suffer in that heat.”
Humidity drastically alters summer conditions into sometimes dangerous situations. At 90 degrees, a relative humidity of 60 percent could make temperatures feel closer to 100 degrees, while an actual air temperature of 100 degrees at the same humidity could turn up the dial to nearly 130 degrees.
Exceptional heat compounded by humidity keeps the air muggy, making it easier for people outdoors to recognize water loss, but dry heat masks the amount of water loss as evaporation whisks moisture from the body’s surface. In each case, Klope said proper hydration is one of the main keys to fighting the heat.
“By whatever lay term you use — heat stroke or heat exhaustion — it means you’ve simply become so dehydrated that the body doesn’t have enough fluids to keep working,” Klope said.
Marty Barnett, director of ambulance services at Murray-Calloway County Hospital, said throughout the months between the Memorial and Labor Day holidays, paramedics prepare for heat related injuries on nearly every call.
After spending extensive periods of time in the sun, if a person stops sweating, experiences dizziness or a light-headed feeling, starts slurring speech or exhibits varying degrees of consciousness, Barnett said it’s time for help.
“As humans we have a tendency to push through what doesn’t feel right, but we know our bodies better than anyone else and when something doesn’t feel right, we need to stop and seek medical attention,” Barnett said.
As a good rule of thumb, Barnett advised that people heading outdoors mid-summer should wear light-colored, lightweight and loose fitting clothing, wear appropriate sunscreen, check medications that could limit sun exposure and, most importantly, remember to stay hydrated with water.
Contact Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676 or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.