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Beat the heat: hydration important in surviving record-breaking temperatures

Joey Kornegay hydrates with some water after a morning of outdoor exercise. U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp

Joey Kornegay hydrates with some water after a morning of outdoor exercise. U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp

Robins Air Force Base, Ga. -- As summer lingers, so does the sweltering heat.

In recent weeks, temperatures have broken records, with the heat index climbing to a sizzling 115 degrees on some days.

Rather than using the heat index as a temperature guide, however, Robins uses the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature, a three-part thermometer instrument that measures regular ambient temperature, amount of direct sun light temperature, and wind and humidity effects, located outside of Bldg. 207.

The WBGT is monitored every two hours during each weekday from May 1 to Sept. 30, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Heat conditions are assigned color-coded flags, with rest cycle recommendations assigned to each.

Current flag conditions are posted on the Robins home page to make people aware of the outdoor heat's status.

Although the hot weather may have some seeking refuge in the indoors, with the right approach, Robins' health officials said people can enjoy the great outdoors without suffering harmful consequences.

Pat Tooley, lead health specialist in the 78th Medical Group's Public Health Flight, said hydration is especially important as temperatures exceed 100 degrees.

"One of the primary problems that we have is dehydration, which can lead to either heat exhaustion or heat stress," she said.

Capt. Patricia Garcia, 78th MDG's Public Health Flight commander, said drinking plenty of water is very important during the heat wave.

"What they need to do is drink plenty of water during the day," she said. "Most heat disorders are caused by dehydration. As long as they're supplying their body with the necessary water, they should be fine."

Lee Langley, chief of the Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight in the 78th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, recommends people drink at least one quart of water per hour during the hot temperatures.

"First and foremost, you have to stay hydrated," he said. "Basically, your fluid intake should be greater than or equal to the amount of water lost in perspiration, which is basically eight fluid ounces of water for every eight ounces of weight lost."

Mr. Langley said people should start drinking long before they ever start work or play outdoors.

"They need to continuously drink the water even if they don't feel thirsty," he said. "By the time they feel thirsty, they're becoming dehydrated."

If people start feeling poorly in a heated moment, they should consider the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness and see if any apply, Mr. Langley said.

"There are basically three types of (heat-related illness)," he said. "They are heat exhaustion, heat stroke and heat cramps."

Signs of heat cramps include muscle spasms in the arms and legs that usual ly occur some time after doing work and are caused by heavy sweating without replenishing lost fluids with water. Headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, weakness, moist skin and upset stomach are some of the characteristics of heat exhaustion.

Heat stroke, the most severe of the three heat-related illnesses, is characterized by dry and hot skin, no sweating, mental confusion or loss of consciousness, and seizures or convulsions.

Master Sgt. David Quakenbush, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 78th MDG's Public Health Flight, said making small adjustments to one's outdoor activity schedule can help lessen the risk.

"If they can schedule their work in the coolest part of the day, that would help," he said. "In the morning time would probably be the best time to do physical activity. Schedule (your outdoor activity) before the day heats up."

The ideal time for outdoor work or other activities would be before 10 a.m., Sergeant Quakenbush said.

Ms. Tooley said people should try to avoid outdoor activity between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., a period considered to have the highest temperatures of the day.

If that doesn't work, rest cycles are a must, Mr. Langley said.

"As the WBGT increases, you need to rest more than you normally would," he said.

Ms. Tooley said work and rest cycles vary with the degrees of work performed. If people must work in the heat, they should take rest breaks in air conditioning or a shaded area as much as possible.

When working outdoors, people should use large-brimmed straw hats to shield the eyes and ears, Ms. Tooley said.

Robins offers guidance on the length and frequency of work and rest cycles based on its color-coded flag system. The information is published on the Robins homepage.

Ms. Tooley said people are encouraged to not only look out for their own safety in the heat, but to also look out for those around them.

"I would say that one of the prime things that they should do is use the Wingman concept," she said. "Make sure they keep an eye on their buddies for any type of profuse sweating, redness of the skin of individuals, (and) extreme fatigue."

The elderly and children are at a higher risk for heat-related illness and should be watched more closely in the heat, Ms. Tooley said. When playing outdoors, children should be supervised.

"The main thing is to not let them get out too long and to stay hydrated," Mr. Langley said. "They should not be in this kind of heat unsupervised for sure. They definitely need to have some sort of supervision when they're out."

Ms. Tooley said people in this group should stay in air conditioning as much as possible during the hot period.