Extreme Heat often results in the highest number of annual deaths among all weather-related hazards in the US. On average, it has killed more people in the last 30 years than any other weather phenomena. EXTREME HEAT is generally defined as an extended period (2 to 3 days) of high heat and humidity with temperatures above 90 degrees. In such conditions, evaporation is slowed, and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. This can lead to death by overworking the human body. Remember that:
- Extreme heat can occur quickly and without warning.
- Older adults, children, and sick or overweight individuals are at greater risk from extreme heat.
- Humidity increases the feeling of heat as measured by a heat index.
While every year, thousands of people suffer from heat-related illnesses and even death, many of these tragedies can be prevented. Keep everyone safe this summer by following these seven simple tips:
- Ensure you get acclimated to the temperature and humidity! Especially children, the elderly, and athletes need time to adjust to activity and exercising in hot, humid weather. Planning early morning or late afternoon/evening activities and gradually increasing exercise and sports-related activities over the first two weeks of warmer weather will ensure they are adequately acclimatized to their environment.
- Properly dress before activity and exercise outdoors! Clothing should be light-colored, lightweight and limited to one layer of absorbent material to facilitate the evaporation of sweat. Sweat-saturated garments should be replaced by dry garments, and rubberized sweat suits should never be used for weight loss.
- Protect your largest organ from the sun! In addition to staying in the shade, limit skin’s exposure to the sun during the peak intensity hours and dress in lightweight clothing and hats. Everyone over 6 months should frequently apply (and reapply) sunscreen with at least 15 SPF to their skin. Little ones under six months should mostly avoid the sun. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. Maximize the fun, not the sun.
- Be sure you are drinking plenty of fluids. Before and during any type of physical activity, everyone should be encouraged to drink plenty of fluids, such as cool water or flavored sports drinks. Due to their high-sugar and caffeine content, fruit juices, sodas and energy drinks (i.e., Red Bull) are not recommended. Alcohol “es no bueno”, as it dehydrates.
- Avoid equipment and surfaces directly exposed to the sun! In direct sunlight, playground equipment can heat up to temperatures well into the triple digits. Severe burns can result from young children unknowingly exposing their skin to extremely hot playground equipment. Same is true on pool deck equipment and surfaces. Avoid being outdoors midday and frequenting playgrounds that are not shaded by trees or canopies. Cool surfaces with copious amounts of water.
- Never leave children, the elderly or even pets in a car or other closed motor vehicle! The inside of a car can quickly reach dangerous and life-threatening temperature levels! Since 1998, over 600 children in the U.S. have died of heat stroke when left unattended in a vehicle. On average, 37 kids perish in hot vehicle each year. The hottest months inevitably bring the highest numbers of hypothermia incidents, so summer, late spring and early fall are the most treacherous times.
As of July 20, 26 children have lost their lives this year in hot car death incidents. To prevent heat stress tragedies, parents and caregivers should never leave others alone in or around a vehicle, always lock the car and ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices, create visual reminders to look in the back seat before you leave, and plan to have daycare providers or other family members call home if the child hasn’t arrived on schedule to verify there’s been a change from the daily routine.
Know the signs and symptoms of heat illness and watch for them among your family and friends! Heat-related illnesses, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, cause a wide-spectrum of signs and symptoms.
- Muscle cramps usually occur in the larger muscle groups, such as the hamstrings and buttocks. If someone develops painful muscular cramping, they should stop exercising and start drinking fluids. Additionally, by encouraging the person to lie down in a cool area while massaging and stretching the affected muscles, their symptoms may improve at a quicker pace.
- Heat exhaustion is the most common form of heat-related illness and will usually occur in those who participate in activities that lead to profuse sweat loss! Symptoms of heat exhaustion include temperature elevation, headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting and muscle weakness. If someone develops these symptoms, they should be moved away from direct sunlight and into a shaded or air-conditioned area. By fanning and rehydrating and placing ice bags around the neck, underarms and groin area, the core body temperature will start to lower. However, if the person is unable to keep fluids down (due to nausea/vomiting) and appears dehydrated, they should be seen by a physician.
- Heat stroke is a medical emergency, with a mortality rate as high as 50 to 70 percent! With severe dehydration, the normal sweating response can become impaired! Symptoms of heat stroke are similar to those seen with heat exhaustion, but are typically accompanied by abnormal behavior or responsiveness, seizures, and core body temperatures greater than 104°F. In addition to moving and cooling the victim, 911 should be called immediately! Bystander CPR and the use of an AED (or automated external defibrillator) may be necessary if the person stops breathing and/or no longer has a pulse.
Remember, heat-induced illness and death are preventable! Be sure to take the necessary precautions to ensure everyone’s safety and a fun-filled summer, especially as we enter the hottest parts of our year in the northern hemisphere.
If you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms of heat injury, seek medical attention Fast. You might use HealthLynked.com to do so, and if you are already maintaining your medical information in our easy to use, secure portable, personal health record system, it will be so much easier to get the right care today.
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