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Heat Safety & Heat Wave Dangers in America



When the human body is taxed beyond more than it can handle, excessive heat can lead to death. During the summer, heat kills around 175 Americans every year. Of all the natural hazards, nothing takes a greater toll on people other than winter colds. From 1936 to 1975, almost 20,000 individuals in America lost their lives due to solar radiation and heat. There were over 1,250 people who died in the 1980 heat wave. Summers in North America are hot and, although the heat may be different depending on the region, it can be very, very dangerous. Fortunately by knowing the symptoms and signs of heat-related illnesses and understand how to properly treat heat disorders, we can help prevent more heat-related fatalities.

The Heat Index and Heat Alerts

Taking the death toll into consideration, the efforts for more effective alerts to the public and authorities has been taken a step further. The National Weather Service has implemented a system which will warn people about heat wave hazards. The Heat Index accurately measures how hot if feels when humidity is added to the air temperature. If the heat is expected to be severe and can pose a threat to the public, warnings and/or advisories are issued. Typically alerts are issued when the heat index will be 105 degrees or higher and the nighttime heat index will be at least 80 degrees or more for at least two consecutive days. The alerts for excessive heat will vary from the general guidelines as certain areas are more prone to these dangers than others. The procedures for these alerts are as followed:

  • Heat index values will be included in city and zone forecasts.
  • Special Weather Statements will be issued detailing the how bad the hazard is, those who should take the most precaution, and safety tips to help reduce any risks those individuals may face.
  • Local and state health officials will receive assistance in organizing emergency messages. Advice and meteorological information will be provided as well as telephone numbers and names of health professionals.
  • The NOAA will release all of the information over the radio.

Heat Disorders and Illness

In general, heat disorders happen when the body has difficulty or cannot reduce heat through sweating or circulatory changes. It may also be caused from chemical imbalances which can be caused from sweating too much. When there is more heat gained than can be removed by the body or when salt and fluids lost through sweating are not compensated for, there is a rise in the inner core and a related illness could possibly develop. There are various disorders certain groups of individuals may develop due to excessive heat:

  • If the body reaches 130 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, there is a possibility of having a sun or heat stroke if exposure is continued.
  • If the body's temperature reaches 105 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, a person can suffer from heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunstroke, and heat stroke with prolonged physical activity and/or exposure.
  • At a body temperature between 90 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit, heat cramps or sunstroke can develop. A person can possibly develop heat exhaustion should they not do something to prevent it.
  • At a body temperature between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, a person may feel fatigued should they not stop what they are doing and take necessary actions to stay safe.

Excessive Heat and the Body

The human body can dispel heat with the depth and rate of its blood circulation when water is released through sweat glands and skin. When the bloods temperature is more than 98.6 degrees and all extremities have been reached, heat can be dissipated through panting. Sweating alone will not help the body cool down unless water is evaporated. When the humidity is high, it hinders the evaporation process. When the humidity is high and the temperature is high, the body fights to maintain a 98.6 degree temperature. When the body's normal temperature cannot be maintained, it will overheat which leads to heat related illnesses.

Heat Disorder Symptoms and First Aid

When you know the symptoms of heat disorders, you can prepare yourself with the knowledge of how to treat it. The following is a basic list of heat disorder symptoms and first aid:

  • Sunburn – Symptoms of sunburn include pain and redness. When it is sever a person may see swelling in their skin, have headaches, get a fever, or even blisters. To treat sunburn use ointment for mild cases with blisters. If there is any breaking of the blisters, sterile dry dressing should be applied. If it's more serious, seek medical attention.
  • Heat Cramps – Heat cramp systems include painful spasms in leg muscles and stomach. A person may sweat heavily as well. To treat heat cramps apply firm pressure on any cramped muscles or relieve the spasm with a gentle massage. Sip water. If the person feels nauseated, discontinue.
  • Heat Exhaustion – The symptoms of heat exhaustion include sweating heavily, feeling weak, clammy, pale, or cold skin. A normal temperature is possible but a person may vomit or faint. To treat heat exhaustion, get in the shade. Loosen clothing and lie down. Wet, cool cloths should be applied and the victim should be fanned or moved into an air-conditioned space. Water should be sipped unless the victim feels nauseated. If the person continues to vomit, medical attention should be sought immediately.
  • Heat Stroke – Symptoms of heat stroke include a body temperature of 106 degrees or higher. Dry, hot skin. A strong and rapid pulse but they could also be unconscious. To treat heat stroke medical assistance should be sought after immediately any delays could lead to a fatality. The victim should be moved to a cool environment. Use cold sponges or a cold bath to help reduce their body heat. Be extremely cautions while removing their clothing and use air-conditioners or fans. If their temperature continues to rise, repeat, but do not give them any liquids.

Heat Wave Safety Tips and Preventing Heat-Related Illness

Those who are more prone to developing a heat-related illness include people with alcohol and weight issues, small children, the elderly, chronic invalids, and those taking certain drugs or medications such as anticholinergics and tranquilizers. Precautions can be taken in order for everyone to stay safe. These precautions include:

  • Slow down. Reschedule, eliminate, or reduce any strenuous activities and participate in them when it is cooler. Those at risk do not necessarily need to stay indoors, however they should remain in available places which are coolest.
  • Wear summer type clothing. Wear clothing that is light in color and weight. This clothing reflects sunlight and heat and will help the body maintain its normal temperature.
  • Protein increases water loss and the production of metabolic heat so try to lessen the amount eaten prior to going out in extreme heat.
  • Drink water, lots of it. Water helps keep the body cool and you should be drinking it even when you're not thirsty.
  • No alcohol.
  • Stay inside air-conditioned spaces.
  • Get in the shade and out of the sun. Sunburns only make heat dissipation more difficult.

Heat Safety for Kids

The following links will help child and teenage athletes understand heat-related illness and how to stay safe during activities:

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