We are still in the “Dog Days” of summer, which means it can be awfully hot in many parts of the country. While there are many ways to enjoy these long hot summer days, you need to remember that excessive heat can be just as dangerous, even deadly, as extreme cold.
Heat kills by pushing the human body beyond its limits. In extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature.
Most heat disorders occur when you have been overexposed to heat or, you have over –exerted yourself relative to your age and physical condition. Older adults, young children and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to succumb to extreme heat – but anyone can fall victim to the heat when failing to prepare properly.
As with many natural disasters, a heat emergency can be the result of another disaster. For example, in the aftermath of a hurricane, or earthquake in tropical region or other areas of hot temperatures, power outages can put people used to the comforts of air-conditioning, in danger of heat emergencies.
What Is a Heat Wave?
An extreme heat emergency is often referred to as a “Heat Wave.” Some terms you need to be aware of as you prepare for a potential heat emergency are:
- Heat Index – A number in degrees Fahrenheit (F) that tells how hot it feels when relative humidity is added to the air temperature. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15 degrees.
- Excessive Heat Watch – Conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event to meet or exceed local Excessive Heat Warning criteria in the next 24 to 72 hours.
- Excessive Heat Warning – Heat Index values are forecast to meet or exceed locally defined warning criteria for at least 2 days (daytime highs=105-110° Fahrenheit).
- Heat Advisory – Heat Index values are forecast to meet locally defined advisory criteria for 1 to 2 days (daytime highs=100-105° Fahrenheit).
What Complications Can Heat Cause?
Common heat related distress conditions include: Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke.
Heat Cramps – Muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. Although heat cramps are the least severe, they are often 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 heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim’s condition will worsen. Body temperature will keep rising and the victim may suffer heat stroke.
Heat Stroke – A life-threatening condition. The victim’s temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly.
Basic First Aid For Heat Emergencies
The elderly, the very young, and people with chronic diseases, and compromised immune systems are at the highest risk to succumb to a heat related illness or injury. However, even young and healthy individuals can fall prey to heat if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather.
As in First Aid techniques during any crisis or emergency, you should get the victim to medical professionals as soon as possible.
These self-help measures are designed to help you recognize and respond promptly to warning signs of trouble. Your best defense against heat-related illness is prevention. Staying cool and making simple changes in your fluid intake, activities, and clothing during hot weather can help you remain safe and healthy for the most part.
The following chart illustrates the most common heat related conditions, presented in order from the least to the most severe.
|Skin redness and pain, possible swelling, blisters, fever, headaches
|Take a shower using soap to remove oils that may block pores, preventing the body from cooling naturally.
Apply dry, sterile dressings to any blisters, and get medical attention.
|Painful spasms, usually in leg and abdominal muscles; heavy sweating
|Get the victim to a cooler location.
Lightly stretch and gently massage affected muscles to relieve spasms.
Give sips of up to a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. (Do not give liquids with caffeine or alcohol.)
Discontinue liquids, if victim is nauseated.
|Heavy sweating but skin may be cool, pale, or flushed. Weak pulse. Normal body temperature is possible, but temperature will likely rise. Fainting or dizziness, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, and headaches are possible.
|Get victim to lie down in a cool place.
Loosen or remove clothing.
Apply cool, wet clothes.
Fan or move victim to air-conditioned place.
Give sips of water if victim is conscious.
Be sure water is consumed slowly.
Give half glass of cool water every 15 minutes.
Discontinue water if victim is nauseated.
Seek immediate medical attention if vomiting occurs.
|Heat Stroke||High body temperature (105+); hot, red, dry skin; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid shallow breathing. Victim will probably not sweat unless victim was sweating from recent strenuous activity. Possible unconsciousness.
|Call 9-1-1 or emergency medical services, or get the victim to a hospital immediately. Delay can be fatal.
Move victim to a cooler environment.
Try a cool bath, sponging, or wet sheet to reduce body temperature.
Watch for breathing problems.
Use extreme caution.
Use fans and air conditioners.
Do not overlook the severity of heat emergencies. Unlike with a hurricane, earthquake or tornado, the aftermath of a heatwave may not make for dramatic news pictures –but did you know that from 1979-2013, more people in the U.S. died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined?
But the good news is, with a little knowledge and preparation, and by keeping yourself in good shape, most heat related deaths and illnesses are preventable.