A heat wave isn't about sun, fun and getting a great natural tan. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), punishing summer heat is responsible for more fatalities than all other types of weather events. One contributing factor is that people don't always take hot weather as seriously as they should. A little sunshine can make for an entertaining afternoon -- too much can kill you.
Defined as a prolonged period of excessive heat, a heat wave is dangerous business. No one is immune, and the longer the heat persists, the more likely someone in your family will start showing signs of heat-related distress. Pollutants in the air and the reflected heat from city streets and structures can make conditions even worse.
Having a heat wave safety plan and a healthy dose of respect for the destructive potential of this form of extreme weather is a good policy. These five heat wave safety tips will help you recognize and deal with the dangers.
In hot weather, fashion should take a back seat to safety and comfort. Wear loose, light-colored clothing -- and cover your skin, don't expose it. You'll be protecting yourself against sunburn, reflecting some of the sun's rays and encouraging nature's air conditioning (perspiration) to keep you a little cooler. When you go outdoors, protect your face and head by wearing a hat. Don't forget to put on a pair of shoes or sandals and slather sunscreen on any area of your body that's exposed, like your face and hands.
If possible, take part in outdoor activities and even strenuous indoor tasks in the morning hours or postpone them until evening when temperatures are cooler. If you must work outdoors, stay hydrated. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothes and stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Take frequent breaks, and replace the salt and minerals you're losing through perspiration by drinking sports beverages.
Just because you're young and healthy doesn't mean you're immune to the effects of the heat. If you experience muscle spasms, abdominal pain or pain in the arms or legs, stop what you're doing. Relax for a while in a cool spot and drink plenty of liquids. You may be suffering from heat cramps. If the symptoms persist longer than an hour, seek medical attention. Either way, stop working outdoors for the day.
If you experience dizziness, confusion, fainting, excessive sweating, nausea, a rapid pulse, headache or your skin is hot but you've stopped sweating, you may be suffering from heat exhaustion or possibly even heat stroke. Both are more serious than heat cramps. Stop what you're doing immediately. If your body temperature is over 103 degrees F, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, and heat stroke can be fatal. These are serious symptoms, so pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Perspiration is the body's way of staying cool, but that moisture loss has to be replenished regularly. If you're physically active on a hot day, drinking four 16- to 32-ounce glasses of liquid an hour isn't too much. This is true even if you're not thirsty, so drink up.
For hydration, all beverages aren't created equal. Avoid alcoholic beverages, even beer. You should also steer clear of beverages that are high in sugars. These false friends can actually cause you to lose more fluid than you gain. Another smart move is to drink your beverages cool but not ice cold. Very cold drinks can cause stomach cramps.
In a heat wave, you're safest indoors. Your best bet is to find an air-conditioned location for the duration. If you don't have an air conditioner in your home, seek out an air-conditioned public building, like a library, mall or theater during the hottest part of the day.
When you're at home, spend your time in the lowest, coolest spot, like the basement. Lower the blinds and close the drapes. Avoid using your stove for cooking.
If you're outfitting your home in advance for the hot weather, install weather stripping around windows and doors, and invest in storm windows for year round use. These measures will keep your indoor environment more temperate and save on your heating and air conditioning bills, too.
Heat-related illness can affect anyone, but some people are particularly at risk. If you live with or know people who fit into any of these categories, check on them frequently during hot days, and make sure they're staying hydrated, avoiding strenuous exercise, dressing for the weather and finding the best accommodations possible:
- young children
- people living alone
- the elderly
- outdoor laborers
- the chronically ill
- those without air conditioning in their homes
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- CDC. "Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety." 7/31/09. 7/26/10.http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp
- CDC. "Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness" 7/31/09. 7/26/10.http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heattips.asp
- FCIC. "Summer Health Dangers." 6/1/01. 7/26/10.http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cfocus/cfjune2001/focus.htm
- Purdue Extension. "Hot Summer Tips for Gardeners." 6/1/07. 7/26/10.http://www.ces.purdue.edu/gardentips/county/marionsummer.html
- RedCross.org. "Heat (Heat Wave)" 3/07.7/26/10.http://www.redcross.org/images/pdfs/code/heat.pdf
- ZooToo. "Warm Weather Safety Tips: How to Keep Your Pets Safe in the Sun." 5/6/10. 7/26/10.http://www.zootoo.com/petnews/warmweathersafetytipshowtokeep-1591