The heat is on

Photo by Michael Kelly On Monday afternoon, the parking lot at the Marietta Aquatic Center was full as people flocked to the water for recreation and cooling. The National Weather Service said that starting Thursday the Marietta area can expect several consecutive days with the heat index above 100 degrees.

Remnants of Tropical Storm Barry are expected to drift up the Ohio River Valley, with rain in the forecast for the Marietta area Wednesday afternoon and evening.

After that, it’s going to be heat and humidity, with temperatures forecast into the mid-90s and heat indices over 100 degrees. Heat-related medical problems come along with that.

Children are particularly susceptible to heat-related physical problems. Dr. Jeff Patey at Quality Care Associates urgent care clinic on Front Street said Monday that children’s ability to regulate body heat is not as well-developed as that of adults. They need to be watched closely for signs of heat-related illness.

“Children are definitely more susceptible than adults. They produce more heat and don’t sweat as much, and they don’t think to rest and drink fluids,” he said. Children who are overweight and those on some types of medication are especially at risk.

Meteorologist Nick Webb at the Charleston station of the National Weather Service said this month has been peculiar for the combination of heat and rain.

“Since July 1, the average temperatures have been 3.2 degrees above normal, and that’s impressive when you consider that we’ve also had 6.11 inches of rain,” he said. “That’s 4.26 inches above normal. To get into the top 10 wettest Julys, we only need another 1.39 inches, and we’re only halfway through the month.”

Webb said that after the hurricane remnants go through on Wednesday, the heat will be on.

“It’s really going to ramp up, with highs in the low 90s and humidity index values into the low 100s. The average this time of the year is 85,” he said. “Low 90s is not that unusual here, but combined with the humidity, it’s not rare but it’s not common either.”

As of Monday, the Marietta area had seen seven days this year with highs over 90 degrees, one of them a record-breaker, on June 25 when it peaked at 102, according to NWS data.

The heat is expected to continue well into the weekend, he said, with a frontal system likely to come in and end it at that point.

The humidity makes temperatures seem hotter because it affects the body’s ability to cool itself, he said.

“There’s a stickiness to the air, and sweat doesn’t cool us off as efficiently,” he said. “Humidity makes the air feel several degrees hotter than it actually is.”

The theme for this month, he said, “is very warm, very wet.”

The Marietta Family YMCA cares for about 40 children daily during the summer, and Trish Stille is the childcare director.

“We just try to get them outdoors earlier on hot days,” she said. “We’re fortunate because we have an indoor area, and we always keep them inside when it’s over 90 degrees. We have a water cooler and drink cups, and we make sure they all get a drink every 15 minutes. We make sure they’e sweating, not getting red in the face or lethargic.”

Patey, whose clinic offers urgent care and primary care physician services, said heat-related illness has three phases.

“The first is heat cramps, usually because the body is low on sodium. The person will feel thirsty, dehydrated. If you don’t stop and correct that, the next phase is heat exhaustion, which has feelings of nausea, vomiting, weakness and fatigue. You feel light-headed, headaches are usual and a high pulse rate,” he said. “The third phase is heat stroke, in which you feel severely ill, you’re confused, you might pass out, and body temperature might go over 104 degrees. That’s what happens when you hear of kids dying on a football field, for example. They just keep going, trying to work through those other phases.”

The treatment for heat cramps or heat exhaustion, he said, is to stop the activity and get into a cool environment, remove any heavy clothing, and hydrate with a sports drink that contains electrolytes to ease the cramps.

“Stretch out the cramped muscles, use cool wash cloths,” he said.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency.

“Call 911 or go to the emergency,” he said. “They will use more aggressive cooling methods such as ice packs and intravenous fluids.”

Prevention includes being well-hydrated before starting, he said.

“Avoid caffeine or caffienated sodas, because they can actually dehydrate you,” he said. “If you’re going to be out in the heat, it’s better to wear light-colored clothing because it reflects the heat away. It’s important to take breaks and cool off, use cool mist sprays.”

Patey said he hasn’t seen any heat-related problems in his clinic yet.

“It’s just now getting started in the 90s, so it’s coming,” he said.

Dr. Tina Smith, a pediatrician with the Memorial Health System, said preschool and younger children have the greatest risk of overheating.

“Babies, especially, are less able to sweat. Younger children have a higher surface area of skin relative to their body mass, so they absorb more heat,” she said. “Children have a lower rate of sweating – their glands produce less sweat and it takes higher temperatures for the sweating response to begin.”

Smith advises caregivers not to forget sunscreen, urge children to drink water, avoid peak hours of sun and schedule break times from outdoor play and activities for children to be in the shade or indoors. Children, she said, often don’t regulate themselves.

“They don’t know their own limits,” she said. “They don’t follow their thirst cues.”

Children and heat

• Children’s bodies don’t regulate heat as well as those of adults.

• Ensure children have enough to drink.

• Cramps are among the first signs of heat-related problems.

• Flushing and lack of sweating are danger signs of heat exhaustion.

• Collapsing and fainting are signs of heat stroke and require immediate medical attention.

Source: Dr. Jeff Patey.