This week we had our first taste of summer heat and humidity hitting the 90 degree mark for the first time this year. Our local criteria for a Heat Advisory is when the heat index value is expected to reach 105-109 degrees within the next 12-24 hours.
A Heat Advisory may be issued for lower criteria if it is early in the season or during a multi-day heat wave. That is why a Heat Advisory was issued on Memorial Day because it is early in the season, a holiday and because we are not yet acclimated to the heat/humidity.
This recent blast of heat is of course only a prelude to what will likely be another sizzling summer with heat waves that will push the mercury well into the 90’s and perhaps even the triple digits. The combination of heat and humidity can be deadly and while the elderly, infants, children, and people with chronic medical conditions are more susceptible to heat related illness and death, even young healthy individuals can succumb to heat related illness.
So, before we get into the daily blazing heat and humidity of summer, I thought it would be a good time to review the dangers of heat and how to stay safe.
There are four main dangers of heat that include heat cramps, heat syncope or fainting, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
-Heat cramps can occur when you exercise in hot weather which may lead to muscle cramps. This occurs because of brief imbalances in body salts but cramps can become less frequent as a person becomes used to the heat. Additionally, drinking sports drinks, keeping yourself hydrated and taking it easy can keep this from happening.
-Heat syncope or fainting can happen when someone who is not used to exercising in the heat. This occurs when a person experiences a quick drop in blood pressure but as with heat cramps this can be combatted by taking breaks and keeping properly hydrated.
-Heat exhaustion is also another major danger of heat and occurs when a person losses fluid and salt through perspiration and doesn’t replace them. The body temperature may rise, but not above 102 degrees and in some cases hospitalization is necessary especially for the elderly. The last and most serious danger from heat is heatstroke.
-Heatstroke is when the body’s thermostat gets thrown off and the body temperatures can rise to 105 degrees or higher. Symptoms of heatstroke are confusion, unconsciousness, and lethargy. If you or someone thinks they may be suffering from heatstroke they need to seek medical attention immediately as death can result if not treated.
While the heat can be dangerous, if you use common sense and follow some simple preventative rules, you can stay safe and cope with the heat.
First, make sure that you drink plenty of fluids and don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. During heavy exercise in the heat you need to drink two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour. Sports beverages can be used to replace the salt and minerals you lose when you sweat.
Next, wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen. Choose lightweight, loose fitting and light colored clothing. Sunscreen is important because if you get sunburn it affects your body’s ability to cool itself and actually causes loss of body fluids. If you must be outdoors try to be outside either in the morning or the evening hours.
You need to pace yourself, take frequent breaks, and try to find a shady place to rest. Of course the best way to avoid heat related health issues is to stay indoors and soak up the air conditioning.
Please remember never to leave infants, children or pets in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked open. There is no excuse for this. Even with the windows cracked open, interior temperatures can rise almost 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes. Also, if possible bring your pets indoors. If that is not an option make sure they have plenty of shade and fresh, cool water.