During summer’s sizzling temperatures and stifling humidity, excessive heat can subject your body to a variety of problems ranging from mild discomfort to life-threatening heat stroke.
You can protect yourself with some commonsense approaches, but if heat stress strikes, be alert to the signs and act swiftly to cool down.
Know what these heat related terms mean:
A heat wave is when more than 48 hours of high heat (90 degrees F or higher) and high humidity (80% relative humidity) are expected or occur.
The heat index is the number in degrees Fahrenheit that tells how hot it really feels with the heat and humidity. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms caused by heavy exertion. They usually involve abdominal or leg muscles. It is generally believed that loss of water and salt from heavy perspiring causes cramps.
Heat exhaustion is less dangerous than heat stroke. It can occur when people exercise heavily or work in a warm, humid place where they lose body fluids rapidly through heavy perspiration. Fluid loss results in a blood flow decrease to the vital organs, resulting in a form of shock. With heat exhaustion, perspiration doesn’t evaporate as it should, possibly due to high humidity or to excess layers of clothing that result in the body not being cooled properly. Signals include cool, moist, pale, or flushed skin; heavy perspiring; headache, nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperatures will be near normal.
Also known as sunstroke, heat stroke is life-threatening. The individual’s temperature control system, which produces perspiration to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Signals include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness, rapid, weak pulse, and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tips to beat the heat:
- Limit your activity. Stay indoors as much as possible. Reserve vigorous activity for the early morning hours between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. when temperatures are cooler. If you participate in outdoor sporting events acclimate yourself by gradually building up your heat tolerance with exercise in similar conditions over five or six weeks.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Choose water, fruit or vegetable juices to quench your thirst. Stay away from beverages containing alcohol or caffeine as those can dehydrate your body. A good general rule: drink at least one-and-a-half times the amount that quenches your thirst.
- Eat small meals. Eat more often but avoid foods high in protein which increase the metabolic rate. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
- Avoid the sun. When outdoors, wear a wide-brimmed hat or carry an umbrella. Don’t forget sun screen on other exposed parts of the body. Limit outdoor activity.
- Keep rooms cool. Open windows for cross ventilation. Use fans to circulate air in rooms. Pull shades over sunny windows. If you have air conditioning, set the thermostat between 75 and 80 degrees to cool and dehumidify the air. If you can’t adequately cool your home, go to an air-conditioned public place such as a library or shopping mall.
- Select appropriate clothing. Choose lightweight, loose-fitting clothes that breathe. Avoid dark-colored clothes; light-colored clothes reflect the heat. Take frequent showers or baths.
General Care for Heat Emergencies
When dealing with heat emergencies, remember these three steps: first, cool the body; second, administer fluids; and third, minimize shock.
Heat cramps/heat exhaustion: Move the person to a cooler place and provide rest in a comfortable position. Give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Don’t let the individual drink too rapidly. Do not give liquids with alcohol or caffeine in them. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths such as towels or sheets.
Heat stroke: Heat stroke is life-threatening so help is needed fast. Call 9-1-1. Move the person to a cool place and quickly cool the body. Wrap wet sheets or towels around the body. If you have ice or cold packs, place them on each of the individual’s wrists and ankles, in the armpits and on the neck to cool the large blood vessels. Don’t use rubbing alcohol because it closes the skin’s pores and prevents heat loss. Look for signs of breathing problems and make sure the airway is clear. Keep the person lying down.