High temperatures claim more lives in the United States than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined — around 700 a year, making it the number one weather-related killer in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly.
Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs. Better understanding can help prevent more deaths, some officials say, by encouraging people to take measures such as drinking fluids and seeking relief in an air-conditioned building, even if for just a few hours a day.
Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions related to risk include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use. What are the warning signs of a heat stroke? The CDC recommends looking for these signs.
Warning signs of HEAT STROKE vary but may include the following:
1. An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
2. Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
3. Rapid, strong pulse
4. Throbbing headache
If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone immediately call 911 while you begin cooling the victim. Do the following:
• Get the victim to a shady area.
• Cool the victim rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
• Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
• If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
• Do not give the victim alcohol to drink.
• Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
What is heat exhaustion? Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, those with high blood pressure, and those working or exercising in a hot environment. What are the warning signs of heat exhaustion?
The warning signs of HEAT EXHAUSTION include the following:
1. Heavy sweating
3. Muscle cramps
8. Nausea or vomiting
10. The skin may be cool and moist. The pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow.
If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. See medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour. What steps can be taken to cool the body during heat exhaustion?
• Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
• Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
• Seek an air-conditioned environment.
• Wear lightweight clothing.
For more on heat stroke and heat exhaustion, visit the CDC website’s Extreme Heat section.