Heat Wave Danger
July is considered the hottest month of the year, during which the weather is most likely to develop into a heat wave - an extended period of abnormally and uncomfortably hot and unusually humid weather, lasting from several days to several weeks.
Besides the discomfort already imposed by the hot weather, heat waves can increase the levels of air pollution (which
are already high in metropolitan areas), creating an extremely hazardous environment. Individuals with chronic heart and respiratory diseases are the ones who are influenced by such conditions the most - they may find that their symptoms are greatly aggravated by the hot weather.
Health Effects of a Heat Wave
Under normal conditions, the body's internal thermostat produces perspiration that evaporates and cools the body.
If the weather is extremely hot and humid, this ability can be pushed its limits. Elderly people, young children, and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to become victims of extreme heat.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that excessive heat claims more lives in the United States
each year than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. Between 1979-1998, the CDC
estimates that 7,421 deaths resulted from exposure to excessive heat in the U.S. In 1995, an episode of unusually hot weather in Chicago resulted in the deaths of over 700 people.
Staying out in the heat for too long, especially when combined with exercise or physical labor, may overstress your body's ability to control its temperature. This usually leads to several conditions, which may be fatal if untreated:
|Heat emergencies can be fatal
if not treated properly.
- Heat cramps: Muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. Although heat cramps are the least severe, they are an early signal that the body is having trouble with the heat.
First aid in case of heat cramps includes get the person to a cooler place and having him or her rest in a comfortable
position. Lightly stretch the affected muscle and replenish fluids. Give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Do not give liquids with alcohol or caffeine in them, as they can make conditions worse.
- Heat exhaustion: A form of mild shock, which occurs during exercise or heavy work in a hot, humid place, resulting in the loss of body fluids due to heavy sweating. It is evidenced by cool, moist, pale, or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. If not treated, the victim may suffer heat stroke.
Get the person out of the heat and into a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths, such as towels or sheets. If the person is conscious, give cool water to drink, making sure that he or she drinks slowly. Give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Do not give liquids that contain alcohol or caffeine. Let the victim rest in a comfortable position, and watch carefully for changes in his or her condition.
- Heat stroke (also known as sunstroke): A life-threatening condition, when the victim's temperature control system, which produces sweating 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. Evidenced by hot, red skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be very high - as high as 105 degrees F.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening situation, and help is needed fast. Call 911 or your local emergency number. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the body - immerse victim in a cool bath, or wrap wet sheets around the body and fan it. Watch for signals of breathing problems. Keep the person lying down and continue to cool the body any way you can. If the victim refuses water or is vomiting or there are changes in the level of consciousness, do not give anything to eat or drink.
Heat Wave Safety Tips
|Drink plenty of water.
- Stay indoors as much as possible. Staying in an air conditioned area is the best way to avoid the heat. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor, out of the sunshine. Try to go to a public building with air conditioning each day for several hours. Remember, electric fans do not cool the air, but they do help sweat evaporate, which cools your body.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun's energy.
- Slow down. Avoid strenuous activities, or perform them during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. Take frequent breaks, preferrably in a cool area. Use a buddy system when working in extreme heat. Partners can keep an eye on each other and can assist each other when needed.
- Drink plenty of water regularly and often. Your body needs water to keep cool. Drink plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them - they can make you feel good briefly, but make the heat's effects on your body worse. This is especially true about beer, which dehydrates the body.
- Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increase metabolic heat.
- Avoid using salt tablets, unless directed to do so by a physician.
- Don't get too much sun. Sunburn makes the job of heat dissipation that much more difficult.
- NEVER leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles. Temperatures inside a
closed vehicle can reach over 140 degrees F. Exposure to such high temperatures can kill in minutes.
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