July 10, 2013
Heat isn’t normally the first thing that comes to mind when we think of emergency preparedness, but it can be just as dangerous to one’s health as storms and severe weather. In fact, extreme heat is the number one weather-related killer in the U.S. each year. Knowing the warning signs of heat exhaustion and how to keep cool is crucial during the hot summer months.
As the temperature rises, your body works overtime to keep cool. High temperatures and humidity make it harder for sweat to evaporate, which increases body temperature. Prolonged or excessive heat exposure can lead to muscle cramps, exhaustion, and eventually heat stroke or death. The elderly, young children, and those who have weight or alcohol problems are most susceptible to heat-related illness.
Muscle cramps are usually the first clue that your body is having trouble responding to the heat and humidity. As exertion and time outdoors increases, heat exhaustion may set in, resulting in heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness and nausea. Heat stroke (or sun stroke) is a serious and life-threatening condition that occurs when your internal temperature-regulating system stops working, resulting in extremely high body temperature (106 degrees or more) and symptoms such as confusion or loss of consciousness.
The risk of complications from extreme heat is greatest for those without access to air conditioning. If you live in an urban area with poor air quality, your risk for heat-related issues is also increased. Chemicals in the air can make it harder for heat to dissipate, making temperatures skyrocket in urban areas.
Preparing for the summer heat is easy. Make sure that you will have access to an air-conditioned spot. Check with your local officials for community locations to visit if your home is not air-conditioned or your unit breaks down unexpectedly. Many cities have libraries, community centers, or other public buildings that open their doors to provide relief from the heat when the mercury rises. If your home is air-conditioned, check often to make sure that your AC unit is functioning properly. Consider installing weather strips around windows and doors to keep the cool air in and the heat out.
Check on your neighbors, especially the elderly or those with breathing problems, during stretches of excessive heat. Also consider purchasing a NOAA weather alert radio. It will notify you of extreme heat warnings and keep you updated with important information.
As the temperature begins to rise, make sure to take precautions to keep yourself safe and cool. The easiest way to avoid the heat and related problems is just to stay out of it. Limit the time you spend in the sun and stay in air-conditioned buildings whenever possible. Schedule any necessary outdoor activities in the early morning or late evening, or postpone them until the temperature drops. Adjusting your diet can also help. Eat light, healthy meals, and drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing to help reflect the sun’s rays.
Heat is always a part of the summer season, but excessive heat can cause serious health issues. Know the warning signs of overexposure, stay hydrated, stay indoors during the hottest times of day and keep an eye out for your neighbors.
For more heat preparedness and safety tips, visit www.ready.gov/heat