Heat waves—like the one currently gripping Duneland and much of the rest of
country—can be killers.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),
heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the U.S., with hundreds of
persons dying every year.
On average, NOAA says, “excessive heat claims more lives each year than
floods, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined. In the disastrous
heat wave of 1980, more than 1,250 people died. In the heat wave of 1995,
more than 700 deaths in the Chicago area were attributed to heat. In August
2003, a record heat wave in Europe claimed an estimated 50,000 lives.”
Heat can wreak havoc on the body in two ways, NOAA says: the body loses its
ability to “shed” heat by sweating, or too much sweating causes a chemical
imbalance. “Heat disorders share one common feature: the individual has been
in the heat too long or has exercised too much for his or her age and
Older folks are more susceptible to heat disorders than younger ones, NOAA
says. “Conditions that cause heat cramps in a 17-year-old may result in heat
exhaustion in someone over 40 and heat stroke in a person over 60.”
•Sunburn: Redness and pain on the skin and, in bad cases, blisters, fevers,
and headaches. Use ointments for mild cases if blisters appear and do not
break. If blisters do break, apply dry sterile dressing. A physician should
treat serious cases.
•Heat cramps: Painful spasms typically in the legs and abdomen, with profuse
sweating. Apply firm pressure on cramping muscles or gentle massage. Sip
water, unless nausea occurs.
•Heat exhaustion: Profuse sweating; weakness; cold, pale, clammy skin;
thready pulse; fainting and vomiting. Get out of the sun immediately and
into air-conditioned shelter. Loosen clothing and apply cool, wet cloths.
Sip water, unless nausea occurs. If vomiting persists, seek medical
•Heat stroke (or sun stroke): High body temperature, 106 degrees or more;
hot, dry skin; strong, rapid pulse; possible unconsciousness. “Heat stroke
is a severe medical emergency,” NOAA says. “Summon emergency assistance or
get the victim to a hospital immediately. Delay can be fatal.” While waiting
for EMS, move the victim to air-conditioned shelter or into a cold bath.
Apply wet sponges. Remove clothing. “Do not give fluids,” NOAA says.
“Persons on salt restrictive diets should consult a physician before
increasing their salt intake.”
Cars in the Heat
It can take only two minutes for the interior of a car to go from a safe
temperature to 94.3 degrees, NOAA says, while dark dashboards and seats can
reach temps of 180 to 200 degrees. Superheated dashboards and steering
wheels will then spike the car’s interior ambient temperature.
“Leaving the windows slightly open does not significantly decrease the
heating rate,” NOAA says.
In short, do not leave children or pets inside a parked—and
unattended—vehicle in this kind of heat. Don’t do it ever, NOAA adds, since
death by hyperthermia can occur in the spring and fall as well.
•Make sure your child’s safety seat and seat belt buckles aren’t too hot
before securing child, especially after the car has been parked in the heat.
•Never leave your child alone in a car, even with the windows down.
•Always lock car doors and trunk and keep the keys away from kids.
•Always check to make sure all children are out of the car when you reach
your destination. Don’t leave sleeping infants in the car, ever.
Staying Safe in
•Slow down. Reduce, eliminate, or re-schedule strenuous outdoor activities
until the coolest time of the day.
•Children, seniors, and those with health problems should stay in the
coolest place available, not necessarily indoors.
•Dress for summer. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing to reflect heat
•Drink lots of water or other non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids, even if
you don’t feel thirsty. “Persons who have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or
liver disease, are on fluid-restrictive diets, or have a problem with fluid
retention should consult a physician before increasing their consumption of
fluids,” NOAA says. “Do not drink alcoholic beverages and limit caffeine.”
•Beware: foods like meat and other proteins increase metabolic heat
production and water loss.
•Spend more time in air-conditioned places. If you don’t have AC, go to the
library, the grocery, or a movie.
•Get out of the sun. Sunburn reduces the body’s ability to dissipate heat.
•Do not take salt tablets unless directed by your physician.