Each year more than 300 people die from exposure to heat in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Children left in cars, athletes exercising in the heat and the elderly who do not have sufficient cooling systems or limit their use for fear of expensive utility bills, all add to this staggering statistic.
Heat kills because it pushes the body beyond its limits. The body has been overexposed and can’t shed heat or compensate for fluids and salts lost through perspiration causing heat-related illnesses to develop.
It’s important to keep the body cool and to pay attention to the weather reports. The National Weather Service (NWS) will initiate advisories or warnings when the heat index, a measure of how hot it feels when the relative humidity is added to the actual air temperature, is expected to have a significant impact on public safety. The NWS issues excessive heat alerts when the maximum daytime heat index is expected to equal or exceed 105ºF and a nighttime minimum heat index of 80ºF or above for two or more consecutive days.
Anyone can suffer a heat-related illness, but children, people 65 plus and those who are mentally and physically ill are at greater risk, especially if they suffer with hypertension or heart disease.
The CDC recommends the following prevention tips:
Drink more nonalcoholic fluids. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. If your physician limits the amount of fluid you consume or if you’re on water pills, consult with your physician about your fluid consumption when the weather is hot.
Don’t drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar – these cause you to lose more body fluid. Avoid very cold drinks because they can cause stomach cramps.
Stay indoors and if possible, in an air-conditioned place. A few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department for heat-relief shelters in your area.
Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
If you must be in the heat:
Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
Cut down on your exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool nonalcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. If you’re on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
Try to rest often in shady areas.
Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.