Heat-related deaths and illness are preventable, yet annually many people succumb to extreme heat. Many of us are in an “EXCESSIVE HEAT WARNING” these next few days. Here is some good-to-know information related to heat illness, risk factors and safety tips.
Extreme heat events, or heat waves, are a leading cause of extreme weather-related deaths in the United States. The number of heat-related deaths is rising. For example, in 1995, 465 heat-related deaths occurred in Chicago. From 1999 to 2010, a total of 7,415 people died of heat-related deaths, an average of about 618 deaths a year.
Heat stress is heat-related illness caused by your body’s inability to cool down properly. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.
Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions related to risk include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use.
Heat stress ranges from milder conditions like heat rash and heat cramps, to the most common type, heat exhaustion. The most serious heat-related illness is heat stroke. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Anyone can develop heat stress. However, the following groups of people have higher risks for experiencing heat stress or heat-related death:
- Infants and children up to four years of age,
- People 65 years of age and older,
- People who are overweight, and
- People who are ill or on certain medications
Heat-related death or illnesses are preventable if you follow a few simple steps.
- Stay in an air-conditioned area during the hottest hours of the day. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, go to a public place such as a shopping mall or a library to stay cool. Cooling stations and senior centers are also available in many large cities for people of all ages.
- Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
- Drink water often. Don’t wait until you are thirsty.
- Avoid unnecessary hard work or activities if you are outside or in a building without air-conditioning.
- Avoid unnecessary sun exposure. When in the sun, wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim.
Air conditioning is the strongest protective factor against heat-related illness. Exposure to air conditioning for even a few hours a day will reduce the risk for heat-related illness.
AS A REMINDER:
Keep your body temperature cool to avoid heat-related illness.
- Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible.
- Find an air-conditioned shelter.
- Do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device.
- Avoid direct sunlight.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
- Take cool showers or baths.
- Check on those most at-risk twice a day.
Because your body loses fluids through sweat, you can become dehydrated during times of extreme heat.
- Drink more water than usual.
- Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink more fluids.
- Drink from two to four cups of water every hour while working or exercising outside.
- Avoid alcohol or liquids containing high amounts of sugar.
- Remind others to drink enough water.
Heat and Outdoor Workers
People who work outdoors are more likely to become dehydrated and are more likely to get heat-related illness.
- Prevent Heat Illness with Acclimatization
- Drink from two to four cups of water every hour while working. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink.
- Avoid alcohol or liquids containing large amounts of sugar.
- Wear and reapply sunscreen as indicated on the package.
- Ask if tasks can be scheduled for earlier or later in the day to avoid midday heat.
- Wear a brimmed hat and loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
- Spend time in air-conditioned buildings during breaks and after work.
- Encourage co-workers to take breaks to cool off and drink water.
- Seek medical care immediately if you or a co-worker has symptoms of heat-related illness.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness
- Heavy sweating
- Cold, pale, and clammy skin
- Fast, weak pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
Lie down and loosen your clothing.Move to a cooler location.What You Should Do:
- Apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible.
- Sip water.
- If you have vomited and it continues, seek medical attention immediately.
- High body temperature (above 103°F)*
- Hot, red, dry or moist skin
- Rapid and strong pulse
- Possible unconsciousness
What You Should Do:
- Call 911 immediately — this is a medical emergency.
- Move the person to a cooler environment.
- Reduce the person’s body temperature with cool cloths or even a bath.
- Do NOT give fluids.
During this heat wave, we want you to be safe! For more information on protecting you and your family from the heat, check out the CDC website.