This guide contains heat safety tips and resources to help you stay safe when the weather gets hot. You can use this guide to prepare for extreme heat, stay safe when it’s hot outside, and know what to do if you or someone around you needs medical attention.
The most crucial fact about heat-related illnesses and deaths is they’re preventable. Still, each year, extreme heat claims the lives of over 600 people within the U.S.
Extreme heat events are becoming more common, but what exactly qualifies as an extreme heat event?
The National Weather Service has defined extreme heat as “a prolonged period of excessively hot weather, often accompanied by high humidity.”
The National Weather Service created four types of heat-related weather alerts. Therefore, it’s easy to anticipate those hot days, which is extremely important when planning outdoor activities.
If possible, only plan events in the morning and evening hours and avoid long periods in the sun when you see one of these warnings.
High temperatures are not the only dangerous weather conditions. Low air temperatures and high levels of humidity can also cause health problems.
The heat index is a measure of how hot it feels. The higher the humidity, the hotter it feels. The National Weather Service made a chart showing how likely people will get sick from being in the heat for a long time.
(The National Weather Service Heat Index Chart)
However, for more accurate measurement of heat stress, you would use the WetBulb Globe Temperature (WBGT). The WBGT calculates other factors such as share and wind speed in addition to the temperature and humidity.
This section discusses ways to prepare for the extreme heat in advance and how to stay safe.
Take a look around your house to see if there are any ways you may prepare for potentially extended periods of heat.
Ensure your air conditioner (or swamp cooler) and attic fan are well-maintained before summer arrives. That way, if any problems come up, they can be addressed before it’s too hot. The same goes if you need to repair or install window air conditioners.
While home cooling systems help, you can weather strip doors to keep cool air inside and cover windows to help reflect heat from the afternoon sun.
If you or the people you’re responsible for will be outside during a heat wave, here are some essential precautions to avoid suffering a medical emergency.
Drinking water before you’re thirsty is necessary rather than waiting for thirst to strike. If you supervise children, it’s even more important that they drink plenty of water, as they are more vulnerable to dehydration.
Secondly, eating a well-balanced diet can reduce the risks of dehydration. On the other hand, if you consume a low salt diet, you may be at an elevated risk of dehydration.
When you’re active outdoors, it’s also important to note that heavy sweating removes salt from your body. Salt plays a crucial role in allowing the body to retain water. Keep a sports drink low in sugar on hand to help replace your depleted electrolytes and raise your sodium levels.
If you know a heat wave is in the forecast, dressing for high temperatures is one of this guide’s most fundamental safety tips.
On hot days, it’s essential to wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing to help your body cool down. In addition, light-colored clothing and textiles with “sweat-wicking” features are also great for keeping you cool.
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat or other headwear can also help keep you cool during hot weather.
When it’s hot outside, it’s important to pace yourself while working out in the heat. If you’re not used to the heat, your body might not be able to cool down properly, and you could get sick.
It’s also important to know that some people are at greater risk during heat waves and hot days.
Older adults, young children, and those who are sick or overweight are more susceptible to heat stroke.
People with chronic conditions need to be extra careful, as it’s more difficult to maintain normal body temperature. Heat stroke can also be more common in those with high blood pressure and chronic health conditions which take certain medications.
Additionally, if you know of people in your community who are elderly, young, or in poor health — they are more likely to become victims of excessive heat and may need help.
There are other alternatives for cooling off that don’t require air conditioning.
High-performance and portable misting fans or evaporative coolers can quickly and efficiently lower the heat level by up to 25° and will help keep your body temperature at a safe level.
Smaller, personal electric fans can remove hot air from around you and provide circulation. However, it’s vital to ensure that these fans are safely connected and away from water to avoid harm.
Your local health department can help you find local cooling centers and other community facilities that will give you a break when there is an excessive heat warning. If you cannot find a local cooling center, try to stay out of the sun and in the shade.
Knowing the many types and symptoms or signs of heat-related illness can assist you in making the best choices for yourself and possibly saving a life if someone you’re responsible for needs medical attention.
In intense heat and high humidity, the evaporation process is slower, and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature.
Prolonged exposure to high temperatures and humidity and strenuous activity in hot weather can increase the risks associated with severe heat.
A lack of liquid and salt intake, which may result from dehydration or certain medicines, is a primary cause of heat cramps. Heat cramps are severe muscle spasms commonly occurring during vigorous activity in a hot environment.
Excessive sweating can lead to heat exhaustion, characterized by widespread muscle pains (cramps), stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, or agitation. This illness may be induced by exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity.
if not treated, heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke when the body’s ability to cool itself down fails. Heat stroke is life-threatening without the proper emergency treatment. An extremely high body temperature (above 103°) and red, dry skin can be signs of heat stroke.
Contact your doctor if symptoms and signs of heat illness worsen or if they don’t improve within one hour. A cool shower or a cool bath may help alleviate minor symptoms. Never attempt to treat heat-related illnesses by forcing a victim to drink fluid or providing salt tablets.
Lastly, symptoms such as a rapid or weak pulse, excessive (or absence of) sweating, fainting, or confusion require immediate medical attention. If you are unsure whether or not to call 911, it is always better to be safe.
In conclusion, heat safety isn’t something you should take lightly, and with the right information and preparation, you’ll be ready (and safe) when the next heat wave arrives.