Extreme Heat

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Extreme heat events, characterized by high temperatures exceeding 90 degrees for two or three consecutive days, can strain the body's cooling mechanisms, potentially leading to fatal outcomes. This kind of heat tops the list as the deadliest among all weather-related phenomena each year. Heat-related ailments, such as heat rashes, sunburns, heat cramps, exhaustion, and stroke, affect both humans and animals, with heat exhaustion and stroke being among the more severe conditions.

Typically, during a heat wave, temperatures can climb 10 degrees or more above the region's average high for the summer, lasting an extended period and often accompanied by high humidity, which amplifies the heat's effect. The Heat Index, which combines air temperature and relative humidity, offers a more accurate representation of how hot it feels. Being in direct sunlight can push the Heat Index even higher, by as much as 15°F.

Heat waves can arise suddenly, posing risks to everyone, particularly during the summer or in areas accustomed to high temperatures. Vulnerable groups, including older adults, children, the sick, individuals taking certain medications, those not in optimum health, and overweight individuals, face an increased risk of heat-related illnesses. It's advisable to consult a physician regarding how specific medications might influence heat tolerance.

Preparing for Extreme Heat

Extreme heat results in more deaths annually than most other weather-related hazards.  In extreme heat, evaporation is slowed and the human body must work harder to maintain a normal temperature. 

Before the Heat

  • Find places where you can go to get cool.
  • Keep your home cool by doing the following:
    • Cover windows with drapes or shades.
    • Weather-strip doors and windows.
    • Use window reflectors, such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard, to reflect heat back outside.
    • Add insulation to keep the heat out.
    • Use attic fans to clear hot air.
    • Install window air conditioners and insulate around them.
  • Learn to recognize the signs of heat-related illness.

After the Heat

  • Never leave a child, adult, or animal alone inside a vehicle on a warm day.
  • Do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device. Fans create air flow and a false sense of comfort, but do not reduce body temperature or prevent heat-related illnesses.
  • Find places with air conditioning. Libraries, shopping malls, and community centers can provide a cool place to take a break from the heat.
  • If you’re outside, find shade.
  • Consider pet safety. If they are outside, make sure they have plenty of cool water and access to comfortable shade. Asphalt and dark pavement can be very hot to your pet’s feet.
  • Wear a hat wide enough to protect your face and loose, light-colored clothing
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. 
  • Do not use electric fans when the temperature outside is more than 95 degrees, as this could increase the risk of heat-related illness. Fans create air flow and a false sense of comfort, but do not reduce body temperature.
  • Avoid high-energy activities.
  • Check yourself, family members, and neighbors for signs of  heat-related illness.

Heat Related Illnesses

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat illness and consist of painful muscle cramps and spasms that occur during or after intense exercise and sweating in high heat.

Symptoms:

  • Heavy sweating during intense exercise
  • Muscle pain or spasms

Actions: 

  • Stop physical activity and move to a cool place
  • Drink water or a sports drink
  • Wait for cramps to go away before you do any more physical activity

Get medical help right away if:

  • Cramps last longer than 1 hour
  • You’re on a low-sodium diet
  • You have heart problems

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps and results from a loss of water and salt in the body. It occurs in conditions of extreme heat and excessive sweating without adequate fluid and salt replacement. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heat stroke.

Symptoms:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Headache

Actions: 

  • Move to a cool place
  • Loosen your clothes
  • Put cool, wet cloths on your body or take a cool bat
  • Sip water

Get medical help right away if:

  • You are throwing up
  • Your symptoms get worse
  • Your symptoms last longer than an hour

 

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke, the most severe form of heat illness, occurs when the body's heat-regulating system is overwhelmed by excessive heat. It is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms:

  • High body temperature (103°F or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness or passing out

Actions: 

  • Call 911 right away 
  • Move the person to a cooler place
  • Help lower the person’s temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath
  • Do not give the person anything to drink