Okinawa’s summer heat brings hazards
CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — Temperatures and humidity levels on Okinawa are on the rise, and so too are the chances of suffering a heat-related injury.
Exercising during the hot, muggy summer days of the island can be dangerous. But U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa officials say with proper precautions, all can be protected.
“The big thing here is acclimatization,” said Lt. Cmdr. Stephanie Pridemore, a Nurse Corps officer in the hospital’s Staff Education and Training department. “If you’re new to the island, you really need to acclimatize and give yourself two weeks. Maybe start with low-intensity workouts every day and gradually increase the intensity and length.”
Pridemore said anyone could be susceptible to one of the four heat illnesses: sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. In fiscal 2005 there were 16 cases of heat exhaustion and two heat strokes on Okinawa, with no deaths, she said.
Sunburn is easily avoided by wearing a hat and sunscreen with at least a 30 SPF rating, she said. Heat cramps, caused by excessive salt loss in the body from sweating, tell you it’s time to seek shade, drink a sports drink to replace electrolytes and stop exercising, she said.
A more severe stage of overdoing it is heat exhaustion. Pridemore said the body is still sweating, but nausea, dizziness and weakness set in. The response to exhaustion, she said, should be stopping the activity, seeking shade, taking in liquids and getting to the hospital to be evaluated.
The most severe malady is heat stroke, which has symptoms of confusion, disorientation, vomiting, and dry, hot skin as the body stops producing sweat, she said. Those suffering from heat stroke need immediate medical attention.
“It can be lethal,” she said. “It’s basically the body shutting down.”
In addition to endangering health, Pridemore said, heat injuries could also end a military career.
“Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are reportable,” she said. “Heat stroke is not conducive to military service, so you can be denied service.”
Once a heat illness is suffered, she said, it puts the individual “at risk for another heat injury tenfold.”
In addition to acclimatization, other steps could be taken to stay safe, said Andrea Dean-Hampton, a health promotion specialist at the hospital.
Avoid exercising during the heat of the day between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Early mornings or evenings before the sun goes down are best, she said. Also, avoid alcohol consumption the night before exercising, avoid caffeine, don’t use diuretics to “make weight,” watch out for supplements that can dehydrate, and get plenty of rest — about eight hours of sleep a night.
To stay hydrated, Dean-Hampton said, drink a half-gallon of water a day. Pridemore added that eight ounces of water should be consumed every 15 minutes of exercise, with a sports drink being used after an hour.
Dean-Hampton knows the effects of the Okinawa summer firsthand. She is a half-marathon runner and was going for a six-mile run last August after arriving here. At mile four, she began feeling “cold and clammy” and was dizzy. She noticed she was showing signs of heat exhaustion and stopped exercising.
“If it can happen to people like her, it can happen to anyone,” Pridemore said.
For more information on heat illnesses or to schedule unit safety briefs, contact the hospital’s health promotions office at DSN 645-2620.
Colored flags warn of heat conditions on installations
Flags fly on installations to signify the heat condition and what kind of activities can or can’t be performed. Conditions and temperatures denoted by various flags are:
Green Flag — 80 to 84.9 F: Heavy exercise for unacclimatized personnel will be conducted with caution and under constant supervision.
Yellow Flag — 85 to 87.9 F: Strenuous exercises, such as marching at standard cadence, will be curtailed for unacclimatized troops in their first three weeks. Avoid outdoor classes in the sun.
Red Flag — 88 to 89.9 F: All physical training will be curtailed for those troops who have not become thoroughly acclimatized by at least 12 weeks. Those troops who are thoroughly acclimatized may carry on limited activity not to exceed six hours per day.
Black Flag — 90 F and above: All nonessential physical activity will be halted for all units.
Kadena Air Base uses nearly the same guidelines, with the only differences being that Kadena has a white Flag — 81.9 F and below — and green flag conditions there are from 82 to 84.9 F.
Source: U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force