The heat can be deadly.
A heat wave is when three consecutive days of 90-degree temperatures are expected. And, right now we are looking at a heat wave that could last more than seven days in Massachusetts.
Heat is a dangerous “disease” and can kill. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year in the United States over 600 people die from heat waves.
Extreme heat affects the body’s ability to safely regulate its temperature, often resulting in heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or heat cramps. Sweating is the body’s natural defense to cooling itself. However, when humidity is high, sweat does not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly and resulting in a rapid rise of body temperature.
“Two of the best tips I can offer, if at all possible, is to stay out of the heat and take it slow and easy with athletic activity and working outdoors,”Baystate Medical Center. at Emergency Medicine chief, Division of Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, Department of Dr. Gerald Beltran, said
Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke
“Over exertion can lead to heat exhaustion,” he added.
Warning signs of an oncoming heat-related illness could include excessive sweating, leg cramps, flushed skin, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, headache and rapid pulse. If these occur, get out of the heat and drink liquids. If you don’t feel better soon, call your doctor or visit your local emergency department.
“Heat stroke is the one we really worry over,” said Dr. Beltran, “and it can put your life at risk.”
Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability and requires immediate emergency medical treatment because it can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs.
Warning signs of heat stroke can vary, but may include the following: body temperature of 103º F or higher, dizziness, throbbing headache, nausea, confusion, a rapid, strong pulse, and in extremely critical cases, unconsciousness.
A typical presentation is a person who looks hot and is red, but not sweating,” said Dr. Beltran.
Those at greatest risk for developing a heat-related illness are children under 5 and people 65 years of age and older, who have the least ability to regulate their body temperatures, as well as those who work outdoors for a living. Overweight people and others with chronic illnesses such as heart disease or high blood pressure, as well as those on certain medications, are also at high risk.
Five tips for keeping cool:
- Stay out of the heat – Avoid direct sunlight and strenuous activity outdoors. If possible, remain indoors. If you do not have air conditioning, consider visiting a location that does, such as the mall or a movie theater.
- Dress for the weather – Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and a broad-brimmed hat when outdoors. Stay away from polyester in favor of cotton and linens which are better at repelling the sun’s heat. Also, consider wearing sunglasses and putting on a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or greater.
- Drink plenty of liquids – Begin drinking before you go outside and, if exercising, drink one quart of liquid an hour to replace lost fluid. Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol which can contribute to the loss of more body fluid. Also, if taking water pills or on a fluid restrictive diet, consult with your physician before increasing your liquid intake.
- Take it slow and easy with athletic activity and working outdoors – Postpone athletic activity during high heat and humidity. Limit outdoor activities to the morning and evening. Drinking sports beverages can replace lost salt and minerals when you sweat. However, those on low-salt diets should check with their doctor before drinking sports beverages. If you work outdoors, in addition to drinking plenty of liquids and dressing appropriately, pace yourself and take frequent short breaks in the shade.
- Eat smaller meals – Instead of the usual rule of eating three square meals a day, eat smaller meals more frequently on days when the sun turns up the heat. Also, avoid high-protein foods which can increase metabolic heat.
Be a good neighbor
Dr. Beltran also recommended being a "good neighbor."
“Please don’t forget to check on elderly relatives and neighbors, those who are most at risk for heat-related illnesses, a number of times throughout the day to make sure they are healthy and safe,” said Dr. Beltran.