Heat waves kill people. In fact, in a typical year, heat causes more deaths in the United States than flooding, lightning, tornadoes, or hurricanes. Since heat waves are common summer time occurrences, their dangers affect many people every year.
Even healthy people can suffer from heat related illness, especially if they work or exercise outdoors. But those at highest risk are very young children, the elderly, people who are overweight, and those who have chronic health problems or take certain medications.
Perspiration is the body’s method of cooling itself. When your body gets too hot, you sweat, and as those drops of moisture on the skin evaporate, your skin gets cooler.
During a heat wave, when conditions are extremely hot and humid, the evaporation process is slowed, and the skin cannot get rid of the heat efficiently. This means your body has to work harder to try to regulate its temperature, and that can cause serious problems.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses too much water and salt through excessive perspiration. The warning signs include heavy sweating, skin that is cold and clammy, weakness, and headache. If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to stop what you are doing, sip some cool water, wipe your skin with a wet cloth, and get into an air-conditioned area if possible. You need to take immediate action to help lower your body temperature or your symptoms may worsen, and you could end up with hyperthermia.
Heat stroke is another word for hyperthermia. It occurs when the body can no longer handle the heat it has absorbed, so the body temperature becomes dangerously elevated. The victim may have hot dry skin because sweating has stopped. Other signs include rapid pulse, nausea, confusion, and disoriented behavior. This is a medical emergency because it can cause damage to the brain and other organs, or it can even result in death.
Heat waves are dangerous for animals as well as for people. Animals cannot cool their bodies through perspiration, so livestock and pets really suffer in the heat. Caretakers need to make sure they have plenty of drinking water and shade so they can get out of the sun, and they may even need to hose their animals down to help cool them.
A heat wave can make breathing a dangerous activity for people who are sensitive to air quality. With no breezes to stir it, hot stagnant air becomes a stew of pollutants emitted by vehicles. Not only does it irritate eyes and nasal passages, but also it can cause serious problems for people with respiratory illness or heart disease. The national weather service has developed a code system to warn residents when the quality of their air becomes unhealthy.
Heat waves are killers, and you need to take them seriously. Be aware of their dangers and take precautions.