Extreme heat can threaten health by pushing the body beyond its limits. In prolonged high temperatures and high humidity, evaporation slows, and the body must work harder to maintain a normal temperature. Most heat disorders occur because the person has been overexposed to heat or has exercised more vigorously than appropriate for his or her age and physical condition. The elderly, young children, those with existing illnesses, and those who are overweight are more likely to succumb to extreme heat. A stagnant atmosphere and poor air quality can also contribute to heat related illness. As a result, people who live in urban areas may also be at greater risk during a heat wave.
Know the terms:
- Heat index – a number in degrees that tells how hot it feels when relative humidity is added to air temperature. Exposure to direct sunshine can increase the heat index by 15 degrees.
- Heat cramps – muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. Heat cramps are often not severe, but can be the first signal that the body is having trouble with the heat.
- Heat exhaustion – typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a hot, humid place where body fluids are lost through perspiration. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing a decrease to vital organs. The result is a mild form of shock.
- Heat stroke – a life-threatening condition where a person’s temperature control system, which produces sweat to cool the body, stops working. Body temperature rises too high, which can result in brain damage and even death if the body is not cooled quickly.
- Sun stroke – another term for heat stroke. Install window air conditioner snugly; insulate if necessary.
Before extreme heat occurs:
- Check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation. Install temporary reflectors, such as aluminum foil covered cardboard; in windows to reflect heat back outside.
- Install weather stripping in doors and windowsills to keep cool air in.
- Cover windows with drapes, shades, or awnings. Outdoor awnings and louvers can reduce the heat that enters your home by up to 80%.
During extreme heat:
- Stay indoors as much as possible. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor and in the shade.
- Eat well-balanced, light and regular meals. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
- Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty. Persons who have epilepsy, heart, kidney or liver disease, are on fluid-restrictive diets or have a fluid retention disorder should consult a doctor before increasing liquid intake.
- Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages, as they can cause further dehydration.
- Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.
- Dress in loose fitting clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Lightweight, lightly colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and will help maintain normal body temperature.
- Protect face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
- Avoid too much sunshine. Sunburn slows the skin’s ability to cool itself. Use a sunscreen lotion of SPF 15 or greater.
- Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day. Use a buddy system and take frequent breaks when working in extreme heat.
- Spend at least two hours per day in an air-conditioned place. If your home is not air conditioned, consider spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings such as libraries, schools, movie theaters, shopping malls or other community facilities.
- Check on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time at home alone.