Know your risk during a heat wave

How do you stay safe in a heat wave

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Last updated:
10/25/2021

How common are heat-related illnesses?

According to the CDC, most people in the United States will have some type of heat-related illness at least once during their lifetime. These types of illnesses can include dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, exertional hyperthermia (heat stroke), and hypovolemic shock. There are many ways to avoid or reduce the risk for these illnesses including staying out of the hottest part of the day and finding shade when available. However, these other methods might not be enough if you live in a particularly hot part of the world such as Florida or Texas.

The CDC recommends taking the following preventive measures to reduce the risk for heat-related illnesses and protect yourself and your family from these uncomfortable, sometimes fatal, conditions:

1. Know your risk for developing a heat-related illness:

Who is at risk for heat-related illness?

  • Heat illnesses can affect children, older adults, and anybody in an occupation that involves heavy physical work in high temperatures. The more you exert yourself, the greater your risk for exertional hyperthermia or heat stroke. If you are elderly or have a chronic health condition such as heart disease or diabetes, you are also at greater risk of developing heat illness symptoms.

2. Know how much water is sufficient to stay hydrated during a heatwave:

How do you stay hydrated during a heatwave?

  • A general rule of thumb is to drink 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes. For short periods, you may only need to drink enough to produce clear or slightly yellow urine. But if you are exerting yourself in the heat, the color of your urine can become darker.

Why do we need sodium in the body?

  • Sodium plays an important role in regulating the body’s fluid balance and blood pressure, and sodium deficiency can lead to heat-related illnesses. So drink enough to clear your urine, but be sure to also check if you need additional salt or fluid to make up for this loss.

3. Take preventive measures to cool yourself down when you feel hot:

What are the ways to reduce body heat?

  • Use cool water fountains, faucets, and showerheads; avoid getting wet in a hot tub or Jacuzzi; and wear light-colored clothing and clothes with lots of air holes.

4. Know about the signs of an oncoming heatwave:

How do you determine a heat wave? and how to stay safe?

  • When temperatures rise above 100°F, the heat index can be between 105°F and 110°F. These are the conditions in which heat illness symptoms can develop.
  • People who participate in strenuous physical activity and people who live and work in high-temperature environments should watch for signs of exertional hyperthermia. These activities include tennis, golf, and running marathons or other long endurance races outdoors or indoors.
  • Sign up for weather alerts from the National Weather Service so you can avoid strenuous physical activity during a hot weather warning.
  • Drink plenty of fluids; get 6 to 8 glasses of water a day and one or two glasses, or sips, of liquid with each meal.
  • If you are out in the heat for more than 2 hours, take breaks every 30 minutes and drink 1 to 2 sips of liquid every 15 minutes.
  • If the heat is extreme, you should stay in an air-conditioned shelter and avoid strenuous outdoor activities. Be sure to bring along a buddy who will monitor your condition so they can take over if needed.

What are the health problems that can occur during a heat wave?

The three most common heat-related illnesses are heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and non-exertional heatstroke.

  • Heat Cramps:  Heat cramps are the least dangerous of the three.  For people experiencing this, they will feel pain in their muscles and get pale early signs may include muscle twitches and dizziness.
  • Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is caused by fluid losses from sweating, diarrhea, or vomiting.  If you experience these symptoms you should get to a/c as soon as possible (if possible). The symptoms of Heat Exhaustion include nausea, weakness, headache, dizziness or fainting and can be misdiagnosed as some other illness if not careful. Heatstroke: Heat stroke is one of the most dangerous illnesses that can occur during a heatwave.  It is a medical emergency.
  • Heatstroke: Heatstroke occurs when the body’s internal temperature rises higher than its normal temperature and includes symptoms such as fainting, muscle cramps, fever, and mental changes (in some cases). Some of the signs are red flush or rash around the neck, heat intolerance/sweating, dizziness, headache, or confusion.

When recognized in the early stages, most heat-related illnesses, such as mild heat exhaustion, can be treated at home. Check your heat related illness symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor and learn about the best home treatments