Summer heat brings medical concerns

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Extreme heat, poor air quality something to monitor

Summer is in full swing, which means individuals must take precautions to avoid common complications related to heat and air quality.

One of the most common problems relates to extreme heat, which can cause heat stroke and heat exhaustion, said Dr. Christopher Sikora, medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services’ Edmonton zone.

“Outdoor playing and fun and work, especially in the short Alberta summertime, is fantastic,” he said. “It’s really important that we do take care of ourselves and prevent any illness and prevent untoward things from happening as we are enjoying the outdoors this summer.”

This includes taking precautions against extreme heat conditions, which can have a greater effect on vulnerable populations like children, seniors, those with chronic diseases and individuals working outdoors.

“Extreme heat events are common. A lot of different places in Canada have these heat waves that come through and it’s usually in times where we have high heat during the day and not a lot of cooling at night,” he said.

The most important thing people can do is be aware of the symptoms and know how to react, he said.

The symptoms of heat stroke include dizziness, fainting, vomiting, nausea, rapid breathing, extreme thirst, headache and decreased urination.

Sikora said seeking shade and hydration should mitigate mild heat stroke. Medical attention should be sought for more severe symptoms.

To prevent heat stroke, individuals should stay hydrated, avoid exposure to extreme heat, wear loose-fitting and breathable clothing, seek shade often and keep an eye on the weather forecast.

Another summer risk stems from poor air quality, which is commonly caused by pollution and wildfires.

“Air quality and its relation to health is a newer thing for Alberta,” Sikora said, adding individuals should consult the Air Quality Health Index before engaging in outdoor activity.

The Air Quality Health Index, found at www.airhealth.ca, measures ground level ozone from sunlight, particulate matter from things like pollution and wildfires, and nitrogen dioxide from motor vehicles.

The results will be used to determine where the risk falls on the 10-point rating scale, with 10 being the highest risk.

“If there’s low risk, a number from one to three, you can be outside enjoying your regular activities,” he said. “Then there’s the risk as the numbers get higher … the recommendation can move to a reduction or rescheduling of strenuous outdoor activities.”

A high risk will prompt a warning to be issued for individuals to reschedule outdoor activities, especially for children, seniors and those with diabetes or lung and heart problems.

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