Many parts of the world, including the US, are experiencing extremely hot weather this summer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year more than 600 people die from extreme heat. However, heat-related deaths are preventable if people take the right measures to stay cool. Of course, if you have air conditioning and remain in during times of high heat stress, you will be ok. You must know what you can do to stay safe in extreme heat.
People at Highest Risk for Heat-Related Death and Illness
People who are at the highest risk for heat-related death and illness are:
- Seniors over age 65
- Children under age 2
- People with chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes
- People with mental Illness
- People with heart disease and circulation problems
- People with chronic kidney or lung disease
- People who consume alcoholic drinks
- People on certain kinds of prescription drugs like diuretics, blood pressure lowering drugs, sedatives and tranquilizers
- People who are overweight and obese
- People who are very underweight and thin
- People who have diabetes insipidus (water diabetes)
Steps to Take to Protect yourself and your Loved One from Heat-related Illness
The main steps to take are to drink enough and keep cool:
Remain Close to Air-conditioning
Air-conditioning is the best way to avoid getting ill from the heat, even if it is only for a few hours every day. If you do not have air-conditioning in your home, then spend as much time as possible in public places that are air-conditioned like shopping malls, community centers, libraries, museums and other public buildings. If you do not know where there is an air-conditioned shelter in your area, contact your local health department to advise you where to go to find an air-conditioned building.
Fan is not Enough During Extremely Hot Weather
A fan should not be used as the main cooling device during an extreme heat wave. Only air-conditioning can help to keep you cool and safe.
Do not Wait until you are Thirsty to Drink
- Drink plenty of water, at least more than what you ordinarily drink. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink.
- Avoid using stove or oven to cook, as this will heat up the house.
- Do not participate in strenuous activity in very hot weather.
- Check on your neighbors, friends and family members to make sure they are ok.
- Do not go out in the noon day sun. Go outdoors in the early morning or evening.
- If you do venture out in the sun, be sure to use sunscreen.
- Wear loose, lightweight, clothing that is preferably 100% cotton. Do not wear dark colors like black out in the sun. Dark colors attract the sun and will heat you up much faster than white or light colored clothes.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat or carry a parasol. Also wear wrap-around sunglasses that can block ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun.
- Go about at a slower pace
- Take cool baths or showers to cool down.
- Never leave pets or children in a locked car even for a minute, as a car can very quickly soar to extremely hot temperatures.
- Stay tuned to the news and weather reports to be alert to changes in the weather.
Signs of Heat Stress that can Lead to Heat Stroke (Sun Stroke)
A heat stroke (sun stroke) can come on very suddenly without any warning signs. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
A heat stroke happens when:
- The body cannot control its temperature:
- The body’s temperature rises rapidly and may rise to 106°F or higher
- The sweating mechanism fails
- The body is unable to cool down.
Warning Signs of a Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is a dangerous and life-threatening condition. If you see anyone with symptoms that might be heat stroke, you must seek urgent emergency treatment or the heat stroke can lead to death or permanent disability. According to the CDC, warning signs of heat stroke vary, but may include the following:
Muscle cramps may be an early sign of heat related illness that can lead to a heat stroke. Muscle cramps and spasms are a sign of low salt and water in the body and it might help to eat something salty like olives or potato ships and to drink more water and fresh orange juice. It is better to sip water slowly than to gulp it down. If heat cramps do not go away within an hour then seek medical attention. Phone 911 right away if someone has any of these signs:
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
- There is no sweating and the skin is red, hot, and dry.
- The pulse is rapid and strong.
- There is a throbbing headache.
- Ringing in the ears
What to do until Emergency Medical Help Arrives
The main thing is to cool off the victim to get his/her body temperature down.
- Move the victim to a shady place.
- Put the person with heat stroke in a tub of cool water or a cold shower
- Sponge them with cool water
- Hose them off
- Wrap them in a wet sheet and fan them robustly.
- Keep checking their body temperature and continue cooling them off until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
If the person is conscious they may be able to sip water. Do not give them any kind of alcoholic drink.
Rehydration Powders and Drinks
Pharmacies sell over-the-counter rehydration powders and drinks and everyone who spends time outdoors in the heat should carry these with them.
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Everyone young or old can get dehydrated very quickly in hot weather. Drinking water is not always effective at preventing dehydration. Everyone should learn how to prevent and treat heat stroke.