Arkansas has been under heat advisories or warnings throughout much of July. August looks like more of the same.

Heat causes more deaths than any other weather-related event, according to the National Weather Service. When the heat index (a combination of temperature and humidity) reaches 115 degrees for one hour, over a fairly large area, the National Weather Service (NWS) may issue an excessive heat warning. The NWS will initiate alert warnings when the heat index is expected to exceed 105 degrees for at least two consecutive days. These warnings often trigger the opening of air-conditioned public cooling centers.

Those at special risk for heat-related illness or death include older people, the very young and those with health problems. Also at risk are people with an impaired circulatory system and those who take medications that impair the body’s ability to cool itself by sweating.

Our bodies are cooled by losing heat through the skin and the evaporation of perspiration. When the body’s core temperature gain exceeds what we can get rid of, heat-related illness can occur.

Although getting into the shade or using a fan may increase your comfort level, research shows that spending time in an air-conditioned area is the only effective way to reduce illness and prevent deaths during a heat wave. Even if it’s only a few hours in an air-conditioned library, theater, mall, cooling center or at a friend’s house, that time gives the body a chance to cool internally. Once the body’s core temperature returns to normal, its natural cooling ability can function well once you leave the air-conditioned room.

Heat illness is progressive

Most heat-related illnesses occur because of overexposure to heat, over-exercising or working outside. Health problems related to heat are progressive; advancing from mild to severe if the body’s core temperature is not reduced. Be aware of the warning signs that tell you to slow down, find a cooler place and drink plenty of water. This will permit your body to cool itself naturally. If you fail to heed these warnings, brain damage or death can occur.

Heat cramps – usually in the abdomen, arms or legs – are the first signs of trouble. The painful cramps are caused by excessive sweating that depletes the body of salt.

Move the person to a cool place to rest. Lightly stretch muscles and drink water every 15 minutes. Cramps are also a symptom of heat exhaustion so monitor the person for a few hours for a worsening condition. If the cramps do not subside in an hour, seek medical attention.

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to excessive loss of water and salt, usually through sweating. It causes extreme weakness, nausea, dizziness, sometimes confusion and a lot of sweating. The skin will be cool, clammy or moist, and either pale or flushed. With extreme exhaustion, there will also be muscle cramps, elevated body temperature, and fast but shallow breathing. It can cause a form of mild shock and if not treated, the person gets worse. Body temperature keeps rising and heat stroke can occur.

Get the person to a cool place to rest and loosen or remove tight clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths and, if conscious, give cool water every 15 minutes. Watch carefully for rapid changes in condition.

Heat stroke is life threatening. Call 9-1-1 immediately. Heat stroke causes the body to stop sweating and become unable to cool itself. The person’s body temperature will be very high (up to 106 degrees in 10 -15 min.) and the person often collapses. Brain damage and death will result if body temperature keeps rising and the body is not cooled quickly. Signs of heat stroke or sunstroke include hot, red skin accompanied by either dry skin or profuse sweating; rapid but weak pulse; rapid, shallow breathing; and a change (or loss) of consciousness.

Get the person to a cooler place; cool them by soaking or spraying their clothes with water; fan their body until help arrives.

Protect yourself from the heat

  • Never leave a person or animal in a closed vehicle. Death can occur within minutes.
  • Slow down and avoid strenuous activity from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Avoid too much sunshine, especially sunburn, because it can significantly slow the skin’s ability to release excess heat.
  • Drink plenty of liquids throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. One cup every 20 min. if you are outside is a good rule of thumb. Once you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages because they promote water loss.
  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, lightly-colored clothing made of natural materials. Dark clothing absorbs heat. Protect your neck, face and head with a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes such as taking a cold shower immediately after being outside in the heat.
  • Check every day on friends and neighbors who don’t have air conditioning or who live alone.
  • If your home is not air conditioned, go to a public building or one of the cooling centers listed below. This is especially important during the hours of 1-5 p.m.

Cooling centers

Cooling centers provide air-conditioned facilities that are open to the public during dangerously hot weather. Be sure to call first for the center’s hours, to be sure it’s open to the public and, when applicable, if they accept pets. Availability is subject to change due to the weather.

Arkansas’ network of more than 200 senior centers provide the most comprehensive coverage of cooling centers statewide. However, not all centers function as cooling centers. Call toll-free to the regional Area Agency on Aging that serves your county for specific information.

Region I, the Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Arkansas, serves the counties of Baxter, Benton, Boone, Carroll, Madison, Marion, Newton, Searcy and Washington. Toll-free 800-432-9721. All senior centers are available for cooling centers until 7 p.m.

Region II, the White River Area Agency on Aging, serves the counties of Cleburne, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Sharp, Stone, Van Buren, White and Woodruff. Toll-free 800-382-3205. All senior centers will have extended hours for cooling centers. Additionally, the 12 housing facilities in these counties are also cooling centers.

Region III, the East Arkansas Area Agency on Aging, serves the counties of Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Greene, Lawrence, Lee, Mississippi, Phillips, Poinsett, Randolph and St. Francis. Toll-free 800-467-3278.

Region IV, the Southeast Arkansas Area Agency on Aging, serves the counties of Arkansas, Ashley, Bradley, Cleveland, Chicot, Desha, Drew, Grant, Jefferson and Lincoln. Toll-free 800-264-3260. All senior centers are available for cooling centers during their regular business hours.

Region V, CareLink (the Central Arkansas AAA), serves the counties of Faulkner, Lonoke, Monroe, Prairie, Pulaski and Saline.  Toll-free 800-482-6359. In Little Rock, cooling centers are open at these senior centers: Dunbar, Southwest and East Little Rock. In Saline County, the Benton and Bryant Senior Centers are open from 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Region VI, the Area Agency on Aging of West Central Arkansas, serves the counties of Clark, Conway, Garland, Hot Spring, Johnson, Montgomery, Perry, Pike, Pope and Yell. Toll-free 800-467-2170

Region VII, the Area Agency on Aging of Southwest Arkansas, serves the counties of Calhoun, Columbia, Dallas, Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita, Sevier and Union. Toll-free 800-272-2127. The 26 senior centers will notify newspaper and radio stations when they will open as cooling centers.

Region VIII, the Area Agency on Aging of Western Arkansas, serves the counties of Franklin, Logan, Polk, Scott, Sebastian and Crawford.   Toll-free 800-320-6667.

Little Rock

Dunbar Community Center, 1001 W. 16th St.; phone 501-376-1084; open Mon.-Fri. 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., closes at 6 p.m. on Fridays.

Southwest Community Center, 6401 Baseline Rd.; phone 501-918-3975; open Mon.- Fri. 8 a.m.- 9 p.m.; Sat. 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

East Little Rock Community Center, 2500 E. Sixth St.; phone 501-374-2881; open Mon.- Fri. 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.

The Salvation Army, 111 W. Markham St.; phone 501-374-9296; open Mon.-Fri. 1-5 p.m.

Moody Chapel Church, 5430 Mabelvale Pike; phone 501-562-1117.

Watershed Human & Community Development Agency, 3701 Springer Blvd.; phone 501-378-0176.

Conway

McGhee Community Center, 3800 College Ave.; phone 501-513-3586.

Faulkner County Library, 1900 W. Tyler St; phone 501-327-7482.

El Dorado

El Dorado Salvation Army, 419 S. Madison Ave.; phone 870-863-4830; open 9 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m.

Jacksonville

Bethel Baptist Church, 112 N. Jeff Davis Ave.; phone 501-985-3327

Jacksonville Community Center, 5 Municipal Dr.; phone 501-982-4171; hours are noon to 6 p.m.

Jacksonville Senior Wellness and Activity Center, 100 Victory Circle; phone 501-982-7531; hours are noon to 6 p.m.

Lonoke

Lonoke Community Center, 1355 Front St. SW; phone 501-676-4390.