Extreme Heat – Use Caution
Heat-related deaths and illness are preventable. Yet many people succumb to extreme heat. Historically, from 1979 to 2014, excessive heat exposure caused over 9,000 deaths in the United States. According to the National Weather Service, heat is the number one weather-related killer. More people die on average from excessive heat than from tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes, and flooding.
People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself by sweating. Under some conditions, sweating is not enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.
Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other risk factors include age, obesity, heart disease, sunburn, prescription drug use, and alcohol use.
Air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death. If a home is not air-conditioned, people can reduce their risk for heat-related illness by spending time in public facilities that are air-conditioned. Shopping malls and public libraries are good options. Even a few hours in a cool place can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
During hot weather, you need to increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot. Don’t drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar. Those drinks cause you to lose body fluids. Very cold drinks should also be avoided. They can cause stomach cramps.
If outdoors, choose to wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the skin. Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, which also keeps you cooler, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes before going outdoors. Read the package directions about how often to reapply the sunscreen.
If you must be outdoors, try to limit it to the morning and evening hours. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, stop what you are doing. Get into a cool area, or at least into the shade, and rest.
Extreme heat can cause extreme problems for many people and pets. Take care of yourself and others.