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Surviving Summer Scorchers

Can't take the heat? Many people can't, and too often they end up in the hospital.

Elderly at Risk continued...

Walsh says a healthy young person, treated in time, has about a 90% chance of surviving severe heat stroke. Nevertheless, he says two teenage boys in his area recently died because they had gotten high on jimson weed (a.k.a. "loco weed") on a day when the temperature broke 100. They were just too stoned to realize how hot they were.

For an elderly person or someone whose health is fragile to begin with, the survival rate is less than 50%, he says. "It depends on how sick they are when they get to us."

He says El Paso has fewer cases than other parts of the country because the climate is arid. Down on the bayou, in the Everglades, and even in the Northeast, 100-plus degrees is much worse than it is in the Western desert.

Cramps, Exhaustion, Bad Mood

Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are not as scary. "These don't directly lead to heat stroke," Walsh says, but they are disabling. Both conditions are caused by loss of fluid and electrolytes -- salt, potassium, and magnesium -- through sweating. Heat exhaustion is just what it sounds like. Blood pressure drops and circulation decreases, which causes fatigue, fainting, or collapse. Heat cramps set in after strenuous exercise in hot conditions. They're painful, but not too serious.

Doctors treat heat exhaustion and cramps by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes, sometimes intravenously. The first-aid tent at a summer marathon is a good place to see how they do it. Often dozens of stricken runners will be stretched out on cots, hooked up to IV tubes or chugging Gatorade.

Oppressive heat hurts more than the body. If you have to spend a lot of time in the heat, you're likely to get crabby. "It does affect the emotions," says Arthur Bachrach, a psychologist and spokesman for the American Psychological Association.

Road rage is one example of how heat may affect your psyche -- which is no surprise if you've ever crept along in freeway traffic on a sweltering day. "Road rage is at least in part a function of heat stress," Bachrach says.

Heat also makes you feel apathetic and dulls your concentration, which can hurt your work performance and lead to accidents. The National Occupational Safety and Health Administration (NOSHA) takes heat seriously. Of course, tarring a roof in August is nastier business than it is in April, but many Americans work in hot environments year-round -- in laundries, mines, foundries, and steam tunnels, to name a few.

NOSHA recommends that workers gradually expose themselves to heat, so they can acclimate. They should also have a cool place to rest -- where the temperature is about 76 degrees -- and drink five to seven ounces of water every 15-20 minutes, or two to three gallons a day.

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