With the summer upon us, there are some common sense precautions that everyone should consider. These are particularly important for those who are most at risk for heat related illnesses such as the very young and the elderly. The degree of risk can range from mild to life threatening.

Heat stroke is the most severe form of the heat related illnesses because it can be fatal. When the body does not perspire enough to lower the body temperature, heat stroke develops and usually progresses rapidly. This condition can develop when a person is physically active too long or too hard particularly in extreme heat and high humidity conditions. Inadequate fluid intake is also a risk factor. The body can overheat resulting in the body temperature rising to abnormally high levels. At this point, major organs are susceptible to damage.

The following information about heat stroke is from the Mayo Clinicís website: Common symptoms generally include significant increased body temperature, changes in mental status ranging from personality changes to confusion and coma, a rapid heartbeat, rapid and shallow breathing, elevated or lowered blood pressure, cessation of sweating, irritability, unconsciousness, and fainting.

If you suspect someone has suffered heatstroke, the following is recommended: 1) Move the person out of the sun and into a shady or air-conditioned space. 2) Dial 911 or call for emergency medical assistance. 3) Cool the person by covering him or her with damp sheets or by spraying with cool water. Direct air onto the person with fanning.

To prevent heat stroke, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends the following:

? Drink plenty of fluids during outdoor activities, especially on hot days. Water and sport drinks will do a better job of keeping the body hydrated. Drinking tea, coffee, soda and alcohol can lead to dehydration.

? Wear lightweight, tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing in light colors.

? Schedule vigorous activity and sports for cooler times of the day.

? Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat, sunglasses and using an umbrella.

? Increase time spent outdoors gradually to get your body used to the heat.

? During outdoor activities, take frequent drink breaks and mist yourself with a spray bottle.

? Try to spend as much time indoors as possible on very hot and humid days.

Heat exhaustion can be milder, but can lead to heatstroke. According to the Mayo Clinicís website: The signs and symptoms are similar to shock and include feeling faint, nausea, ashen appearance, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, hot, red, dry or sweaty skin, low grade fever, generally less than 104 F.

If you suspect heat exhaustion: 1) Get the person out of the sun and into a shady or air-conditioned location. 2) Lay the person down and elevate the feet slightly. 3) Loosen or remove the personís clothing. 4) Have the person drink cool water (non-iced) or a sports drink containing electrolytes. 5) Cool the person by spraying him or her with cool water and fanning. 6) Monitor the person carefully to prevent heat stroke. If the fever is greater than 104 F, or if fainting, confusion or seizures occur, dial 911 or call for emergency medical assistance.

Another common problem is heat cramps. These are involuntary muscle spasms that can occur in the calves, arms, abdomen and back. One of the major contributory factors is inadequate fluid. If you suspect heat cramps: 1) Rest briefly and cool down. 2) Drink water or a sports drink containing electrolytes. 3) Practice gentle, range of motion stretching and gentle massage of the affected muscle group.

While enjoying outdoor activities, protective measures from the sunís harmful rays may help prevent skin cancer.

An estimated 40 to 50 percent of fair-skinned people who live to be 65 will develop at least one skin cancer incidence in their lifetime, but darker skinned people are also susceptible. The CDC recommends wearing protection such as long sleeves and pants between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the ultraviolet rays are the most dangerous. Most vulnerable areas are the neck, ears, face, and feet. Applying a sunscreen with a rating of at least 15 or higher is best and should be reapplied every 1 to 2 hours.

Have fun this summer and be safe!

Mary Garza Cummings is a free-lance writer. The Town Crier does not warrant the information as valid. It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure validity of the information. If you have questions or comments, email askseniorfocus@aol.com