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As temperatures rise during the summer, knowing the risks associated with extreme heat is essential. Heat-related illnesses can have severe consequences for our bodies, and understanding how to prevent and respond to these conditions is crucial. This article will address some frequently asked questions about extreme heat to help you stay informed and safe.

What happens to your body as a result of exposure to extreme heat?

When our bodies are exposed to extreme heat, our temperature control system can become overwhelmed. Usually, we cool ourselves down by sweating, but in certain conditions, sweating alone is not sufficient. As a result, our body temperature can rise rapidly, potentially damaging vital organs, including the brain. Several factors can affect our ability to regulate body temperature in hot weather, such as high humidity, old age, obesity, dehydration, and certain medical conditions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals at greater risk for heat-related illness include infants and children up to four years old, people over 65, those who are overweight, and individuals who are ill or taking specific medications.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat-related illness. It occurs when the body loses its ability to regulate temperature effectively. During a heat stroke, the body cannot cool down. If left untreated, heat stroke can be life-threatening and lead to permanent disability.

The warning signs of heat stroke may vary. Still, they can include an extremely high body temperature (above 103°F), red and hot skin with no sweating, rapid pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and unconsciousness.

What should I do if I see someone with the warning signs of heat stroke?

If you come across someone exhibiting the warning signs of heat stroke, it is crucial to take immediate action as it is a life-threatening emergency. Firstly, have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you start cooling the victim. Here are the steps you should follow:

  • Get the victim to a shady area.

  • Cool the victim rapidly using any available methods, such as immersing them in a tub of cool water, placing them in a cool shower, spraying them with cool water from a garden hose, or sponging them with cool water.

  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling until it drops to 101-102°F.

  • If emergency medical personnel are delayed, contact the hospital emergency room for further instructions.

  • Avoid giving the victim any alcohol to drink.

  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.

Prompt action is essential in treating heat stroke and can save a person's life.

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that develops several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate fluid replacement. It is more likely to affect the elderly, individuals with high blood pressure, and those working or exercising in hot environments.

Warning signs of heat exhaustion includes sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and fainting. If untreated, heat exhaustion can become a heat stroke. Seek medical attention if symptoms last longer than one hour.

What steps can be taken to cool the body during heat exhaustion?

If you or someone you know is experiencing heat exhaustion, there are several measures you can take to cool the body down and alleviate the symptoms:

  • Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages to stay hydrated.

  • Rest and avoid exertion.

  • Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.

  • Seek out an air-conditioned environment to cool off.

  • Wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing to allow better airflow.

Following these steps can help the body recover from heat exhaustion and prevent it from progressing to a more severe condition.

What are heat cramps, and who is affected?

Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms that often occur in the abdomen, arms, or legs during strenuous activity in hot environments. People who sweat heavily during physical exertion are more prone to experiencing heat cramps. These cramps are caused by the body's depletion of salt and moisture. Cramps can also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.

If you develop heat cramps, you can take the following steps:

  • Stop all activity, rest and cool down.

  • Drink clear juice or a sports beverage to replenish fluids and electrolytes.

  • Avoid returning to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside to prevent further heat-related illness.

  • Seek medical attention if the cramps persist for more than one hour, especially if you have heart problems or are on a low-sodium diet.

What is heat rash?

Heat rash is caused by sweating in hot weather. It commonly occurs in young children but can affect people of all ages. Heat rash is a cluster of red bumps or small blisters and is often found in areas where sweat accumulates, such as the neck, chest, groin, and under the breasts.

To treat heat rash, providing a cooler and less humid environment is essential. Keeping the affected area dry and dusting powder can also help alleviate discomfort.

Can medications increase the risk of heat-related illness?

Yes, certain medications can increase the risk of heat-related illness and death. The CDC highlights the following categories of drugs that may elevate this risk:

  1. Psychotropic medications, which affect psychic function, behavior, or experience, such as haloperidol or chlorpromazine.

  2. Medications used for Parkinson's disease can inhibit perspiration.

  3. Tranquilizers like phenothiazines, butyrophenones, and thioxanthenes.

  4. Diuretic medications or "water pills" affect fluid balance in the body.

If you take any of these medications, you must be aware of the potential risks and take appropriate precautions to avoid heat-related illness.

How effective are electric fans in preventing heat-related illness?

While electric fans can provide some comfort, they are not sufficient to prevent heat-related illness when temperatures soar into the high 90s. It is much more effective to take a cool shower or bath or seeking an air-conditioned environment to cool off. Air conditioning is the most potent protective factor against heat-related illness. Even a few hours spent in an air-conditioned space daily can significantly reduce the risk. Consider visiting places like shopping malls or public libraries during the hottest parts of the day.

How can people protect their health during highly high temperatures?

To protect yourself during periods of extreme heat, the CDC recommends the following measures:

  • Keep cool and use common sense.

  • Drink plenty of fluids and replace salts and minerals.

  • Wear appropriate clothing and apply sunscreen.

  • Pace yourself and avoid overexertion.

  • Stay cool indoors and use air conditioning if available.

  • Schedule outdoor activities carefully, avoiding the hottest parts of the day.

  • Use a buddy system to check on others, especially those at greater risk.

  • Gradually adjust to the environment and give your body time to acclimate.

By following these guidelines, you can minimize the risks associated with extreme heat and safeguard your well-being.

How much should I drink during hot weather?

Increasing your fluid intake during hot weather is vital, regardless of your activity level. Be sure to drink fluids regularly before you're thirsty; instead, drink fluids regularly. When engaging in heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink enough nonalcoholic cool fluids every hour to maintain a normal urine output in color and amount.

Should I take salt tablets during hot weather?

Unless specifically directed by your doctor, you should not take salt tablets during hot weather. Heavy sweating can deplete the body of salt and minerals, which are essential for its proper functioning. It is best to replenish these nutrients through your diet. Drinking fruit juice or sports beverages when exercising or working in the heat can help maintain electrolyte balance.

What is the best clothing for hot weather or a heatwave?

When faced with hot weather or a heatwave, it is advisable to wear as little clothing as possible while staying comfortable. Opt for lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting garments that allow air to circulate freely around your body. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat can provide shade and help keep your head cool when exposed to the sun. Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside and reapply it according to the package directions. Sunburn not only impairs the body's ability to cool itself but can also lead to fluid loss and skin damage.

What should I do if I work in a hot environment?

If you work in a hot environment, you must pace yourself and gradually acclimate to the conditions. If you are not accustomed to working or exercising in the heat, slowly and gradually increase your activity level. If you feel your heart pounding, breathing difficulty, or experience lightheadedness, confusion, weakness, or fainting, immediately stop all activity and seek a cool area or shade to rest.

Remember to take care of your well-being and prioritize your health when working in hot environments.

In conclusion, extreme heat can pose significant risks to our health. Still, we can protect ourselves and others from heat-related illnesses by understanding the warning signs, taking preventive measures, and knowing how to respond to emergencies. Stay informed, stay hydrated, and stay safe during hot weather conditions.

Credit: Information provided by the Health Studies Branch of the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About the Author

jenningsRobert Jennings is co-publisher of with his wife Marie T Russell. He attended the University of Florida, Southern Technical Institute, and the University of Central Florida with studies in real estate, urban development, finance, architectural engineering, and elementary education. He was a member of the US Marine Corps and The US Army having commanded a field artillery battery in Germany. He worked in real estate finance, construction and development for 25 years before starting in 1996.

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