June 25, 2012
Heat Wave Monday
Between 1979 and 2003, more Americans died from excessive heat exposure than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined. Extreme heat can cause many serious health problems, including heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn and heat rashes.
Extreme heat conditions occur when summertime temperatures are substantially hotter and/or more humid than the average for that area and time of year. During these conditions, some people's bodies are not able to properly cool themselves, even with sweating. Very high body temperatures can cause damage to the brain and vital organs, and may lead to death or permanent disability if not treated immediately.
Individuals who are at greatest risk for heat-related illnesses include infants and young children; people over age 65; people with a mental illness and the physically ill, especially those with heart disease or high blood pressure. Elderly adults should be checked on at least twice a day during times of extreme heat; infants and children should be monitored even more frequently. Also, do not forget pets; they need plenty of fresh water, shade and cool conditions too.
Roger D. Peng, PhD, MS, emphasizes that “heat-related deaths are almost entirely preventable; so taking some simple steps during heat waves can have a big impact.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend the following to prevent heat-related illnesses:
- Drink more (non-alcoholic) fluids, and avoid alcoholic and high sugar drinks.
- People and animals should stay indoors, preferably in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air-conditioning, visit a public place such as a library, mall, or community relief shelter for a few hours.
- NEVER leave anyone, especially infants, children, or animals, in a closed, parked vehicle.
- Wear lightweight, light colored, and loosely fit clothing.
- Take a cool shower or bath; don't rely on electric fans to cool off once temperatures are over 90° F.
- Limit activity outdoors to the morning or evening.
- Try to reduce outdoor activities and be sure to drink 2-4 glasses (16-32 oz.) of cool, non-alcoholic fluids every hour. If you are not on a low-sodium diet, a sports beverage may be helpful to replace lost fluids, salt, and minerals.
- Rest often in the shade.
- Follow sun safety precautions, including wearing wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and wide-spectrum (SPF 15+) sunscreen (see more info here: http://www.jhsph.edu/healthymonday/2011/05302011_melanoma.html).
Every Monday, the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers tips for preventing disease and injury, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Check back each week for new tips or visit our archive.
Get informed during hot weather health emergencies by listening to local news and weather channels or by contacting your local public health department for health and safety updates.
For more information on keeping cool during extreme heat conditions, visit http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp and http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heattips.asp.