Staying Safe in the Heat
Now that summer is officially here, our primary care doctors in Delray Beach want to remind you of the dangers of high temperatures.
Although the south, southwest, and middle of the country has so far endured the worst of the record-breaking heat, we’re not out of the woods, either: Heat index values here have regularly climbed into the triple digits in recent weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines extreme heat as “summertime temperatures that are much hotter and/or humid than average. Because some places are hotter than others, this depends on what’s considered average for a particular location at that time of year.”
Extreme heat can be dangerous and even deadly, especially for:
- people 65 and older, who are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature
- people with chronic medical conditions, who may be taking medication that can worsen the impact of extreme heat
- infants and young children
- outdoor workers and athletes, who may be more likely to become dehydrated, particularly in extreme heat
In addition, the CDC lists these factors that might increase the risk of developing a heat-related illness:
- high levels of humidity
- heart disease
- mental illness
- poor circulation
- alcohol use
But when it comes to the extreme heat that we’ve been seeing more and more as the earth warms, it’s important to know that anyone can be in danger from overexposure.
“Everyone is vulnerable, and these exposures can creep up and unexpectedly affect you, so you need to keep an eye on it,” Sabrina McCormick, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, told The Washington Post recently.
The best way to deal with heat stroke is to prevent it, she said. “Once you get on that road to heat stroke, it’s actually quite hard to get off.”
What to watch for
So it’s important to learn the early warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and what to do if you or someone you know is experiencing them.
The CDC reports that muscle cramping might be the first sign of heat-related illness. It lists additional warning signs of heat exhaustion as:
- heavy sweating
- cold, pale, clammy skin
- fast, weak pulse
- nausea or vomiting
If you or someone you’re with experiences these symptoms, you should move to a cooler location, lie down and loosen your clothing, apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible, and sip water. If you have vomited and it continues, seek medical attention immediately.
The signs of heat stroke are:
- high body temperature (above 103 degrees)
- hot, red, dry, or moist skin
- rapid and strong pulse
- possible unconsciousness
This is a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately if you see someone exhibiting these symptoms. While waiting for the ambulance, move the person to a cooler environment, and try to reduce the person’s body temperature with cool cloths, or if possible, a cool bath. Do NOT try to give fluids.
Stay safe in the heat
Following are steps you can take to avoid experiencing either of these potentially deadly conditions.
Limit outdoor activity. The sun is hottest from 11 a.m. (D.S.T.) to 3 p.m., so try to stay indoors, or at least in shaded areas, during those times. If you must be outdoors, take frequent breaks, preferably in air-conditioned environments, and, if possible, take cool showers or baths to cool down.
Stay indoors. Especially if you’re at high risk, stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library—even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
Dress appropriately. Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Wear a hat with a wide brim and use sunscreen. Sunburn can affect your body’s ability to cool down, and also make you dehydrated.
Stay hydrated. Drink water frequently, from two to four cups of water every hour. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink, because by then you’ve already started to dehydrate. Monitor urine color: If your urine is dark, you’re not drinking enough water. Urine should be light yellow or clear. And avoid alcoholic drinks, which can not only impair judgment regarding time spent in the heat, but also dehydrate you. Sugary drinks can also cause dehydration.
Use caution with fans. While fans can move air around and help evaporate perspiration, thus cooling the body, once indoor temperatures reach the high 90s, at least one study found they might do more harm than good. Instead, take a cool shower or bath or move to an air-conditioned place to cool off. And avoid using the oven or stove, which will add heat to the home.
Check the car. Cars can quickly heat up to dangerous temperatures, even with the windows open. When transporting children, place something necessary—a purse or briefcase—next to the child. Keep car doors locked and never allow children to play in a car.
Remember pets. Countless numbers of pets die when owners leave them alone in a hot car “just for a couple of minutes.” Never leave pets alone in a closed car, even for a few minutes. At home, be sure they have a shady area and plenty of water.
Especially in the type of heat we’ve been experiencing, check with us to see whether any medical conditions you have or medications you’re taking might make you more susceptible to heat.