Though hot weather causes fewer deaths than cold weather, even a temperate nation like Britain has over 1000 heat-related deaths in an average year. People usually affected are those that are aged more than 75 years old. Heat-related deaths are more likely in warmer areas than in cooler locations but that doesn’t mean they can’t occur.
Many people succumb to extreme heat each year. In fact, from 1979 to 2003, 8,015 deaths were reported in the United States due to excessive heat exposure. It’s during this time that more people in the country died from unbearable heat than from earthquakes, hurricanes, lightning, floods, and tornadoes combined.
Luckily, those living in hot deserts or tropical forests who are prone to these heat-related illnesses and fatalities are aware of the need to take the right amount of water and also to seek shade and rest during the hottest time of the day.
But when does a person suffer from a heat-related illness? People suffer from illnesses caused by high temperatures when their bodies are unable to cope and cool themselves properly.
Normally, the body cools itself through sweating; however, under some circumstances, sweating is not enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature increases quickly. Extremely high body temperature could cause brain damage and organ failure.
There are several factors that affect the body’s natural ability to cool itself during a very warm day. Once the humidity gets high, sweat won’t evaporate quickly, therefore, preventing the body from releasing heat fast. Other factors that are related to this risk also include obesity, dehydration, age, mental illness, sunburn, poor circulation, heart disease, alcohol use, and prescription medication.
Heat-related deaths are preventable. Thus, people need to at least be aware of who are at risk and what actions need to be taken in order to prevent them. But even the younger and healthier ones can also succumb to heat, especially those participating in arduous activities during hot weather.
Air-conditioning is the first protective factor that could help fight against extreme effects of heat. If you do not have an air conditioning system at home, you can go to public facilities and places that are air-conditioned. Summertime activities should also be balanced with measures that help the body’s cooling mechanisms and prevent any heat-related diseases.
Extreme Heat Defined
Extreme heat conditions can be best defined as summertime temperatures that are hotter and/or more humid than the average for location during a certain period of the year.
Muggy or humid conditions occur when a “dome” of high atmospheric pressures traps damp, hazy air near the ground and adds to the discomfort felt during high temperatures. Extreme dry and hot conditions can aggravate low visibility and dust storms. Drought, on the other hands, can happen when a long period goes by without considerable rainfall.
To protect yourself from extreme hot weather conditions, remember to always stay cool and use your common sense. The most important tip to protect yourself is to drink plenty of fluids regardless of the activity level. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty before you grab a drink.
During a strenuous activity or heavy exercise routine, drink two to four glasses of cooler fluids every hour. But if your doctor limits the amount of fluid you drink or you are on water pills, always follow the prescribed quantity.
To promote your personal health and safety during extreme heat, consider these other tips:
1. Replace Salt and Minerals
During hot weather, our bodies heavily sweat. Heavy sweating can remove salt and minerals from the body. Therefore, it is important to replace the amount that we lose through perspiration.
If there is a need for you to exercise, you also need to drink two to four glasses of cool water every hour. Avoid alcoholic drinks as they will only dehydrate you. Sports drinks are great as they replace salt and minerals that are lost by the body. However, if you’re on a low-salt diet, you need to consult with your doctor first.
2. Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen
Whenever you’re at home and most especially when you’re outside, wear light clothing. Lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing are appropriate.
If you need to go outdoors make sure to protect yourself against the harmful rays of the sun by putting sunscreen or wearing a hat. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply when needed to prevent sunburn.
Sunburns affect the body’s ability to naturally cool itself. Thus, sunburns cause body fluid loss. It can also be painful and cause damage to the skin.
3. Plan Your Activities Properly
If you need to be outside, plan your activities carefully. Limit your activities to early morning and evening hours. Also, make sure to have enough rest in well-shaded and ventilated areas so your body’s thermostat will have time to recover.
4. Start Slowly
If you’re not used to exercising or working out in hot weather, start slowly and gradually pick up the pace. Stop all activities if exertion in the heat leaves you gasping for air and your heart pounding. If you start feeling weak, confused, or you feel like you’re about to faint, stop immediately and go to a cooler area.
5. Buddy System
When exercising or working out under too much heat, always buddy up. Monitor the condition of your partner and also have them do the same for you. Heat-induced illness could cause confusion or loss of consciousness.
If you’re over 65 years old, make sure to have a friend or relative to check on you twice each day. Though anyone could suffer from heat-related diseases, some people are more at risk. Infants and young children, senior citizens (65 years old and older), obese or overweight, and people who have chronic illnesses are at higher risk.
6. Adapting to the Environment
Sudden change in temperature, like summer heat waves, can be stressful to the body. You will have better tolerance for heat if you limit your exercises or physical activities. If you are traveling to a place with hotter weather, allow your body to get used to the temperature before attempting any activity.