Extreme heat can result in dangerous illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. As temperatures rise, it's crucial to take necessary precautions to protect yourself and prevent heat-related illnesses.
Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are both serious heat-related illnesses that can occur when the body is exposed to high temperatures and fails to cool itself properly. While they share some similarities, they have distinct characteristics and levels of severity.
Heat exhaustion is a condition that typically occurs when a person is exposed to high temperatures and engages in vigorous physical activity or spends extended time in a hot environment. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include excessive sweating, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, muscle cramps, and a rapid heartbeat. If not addressed promptly, heat exhaustion can lead to an even more serious condition called heat stroke.
Heat stroke is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the body's core temperature rises to dangerous levels, typically above 104°F (40°C). Heat stroke can develop rapidly and requires immediate medical attention. The signs and symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature, confusion or disorientation, hot and dry skin, rapid and shallow breathing, a rapid heartbeat, an intense and persistent headache, nausea and vomiting, or a loss of consciousness.
Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious conditions, and seeking medical attention is essential. If you suspect either condition, act immediately to keep the body cool using water or ice packs. Working quickly to bring down the body’s temperature can help prevent complications and potentially save lives.
How to Stay Safe During Extreme Heat
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you don't feel thirsty. Avoid excessive intake of caffeinated or alcoholic beverages as they can contribute to dehydration. Always carry a reusable water bottle with you, and if you engage in physical activities, make sure to replenish fluids more frequently.
- Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing that allows your body to breathe. Wear natural fabrics such as cotton or linen, which help keep you cool. Avoid dark colors as they tend to absorb heat. If you're outdoors, consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat and ultraviolet (UV)-protective sunglasses to protect your head and eyes from the sun.
- Limit your exposure to direct sunlight. If possible, stay indoors in air-conditioned spaces or places with fans. If you must be outside, try to schedule activities during the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening. Seek shade wherever possible and take regular breaks in cooler areas to give your body a chance to cool down.
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF (Sun Protection Factor) to exposed skin, at least 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or more frequently if you're sweating heavily or swimming. Additionally, use lip balm with SPF to protect your lips from getting sunburned.
- If you don't have access to air conditioning, use fans or open windows to circulate air. Close curtains or blinds during the hottest parts of the day to block out sunlight. If possible, use reflective window coverings or apply heat-reflective film to windows to minimize heat absorption. Consider using a cool misting fan or cold compresses to help lower your body temperature. Many communities also open air-conditioned emergency cooling centers during extreme heat. You can call your city or town’s information phone number, check their website, or ask a neighbor to help find an emergency cooling center.
Infants, young children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing medical conditions are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Ensure they have access to a cool environment and are adequately hydrated. Offer assistance to those who may need it and encourage them to seek medical attention immediately if they exhibit signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.