Heat is the number one weather-related killer in America. According to the National Weather Service, heat causes more fatalities per year than floods, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined. In fact, based on the 10-year average from 2000 to 2009, excessive heat claims an average of 162 lives a year. By contrast, hurricanes killed 117; floods, 65; tornadoes, 62; and lightning, 48.
“Overexposure to heat can be incredibly dangerous, especially for children and the elderly,” says Dr. Curtis Merritt, physician with DRMC Family Medicine Residency Clinic. “With summer just beginning, it’s essential that we’re all heat smart. This means taking steps to prevent overexposure and learning to recognize and respond to the signs of heat stroke.”
Merritt suggests these tips for beating the heat this summer:
• Be aware of temperatures and humidity levels, and modify your activities appropriately.
• Limit outdoor activities from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., when
temperatures are highest.
• Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of low-sugar or no-sugar
• Stay in relatively cool areas, even when outside.
• Avoid hot enclosed places, such as cars and garages. Never
leave children or animals unattended in a car, especially when parked in the sun.
• Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothing.
• Avoid or limit your use of alcohol, as it can impair your
body’s ability to regulate its temperature.
In the event that overexposure to heat does occur, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs of heat stroke.
According to Merritt, heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia (abnormally elevated body temperature) with accompanying physical and neurological symptoms. Unlike heat exhaustion, a less-severe form of hyperthermia, heat stroke is a true medical emergency that can be fatal if not quickly and appropriately treated. “Another cause of heat stroke is dehydration,” he adds.
Signs of overexposure to heat include:
• Pale, clammy skin
• Muscle cramps
• Feeling tired and weak
If you or someone you encounter is experiencing a heat-induced illness:
• Call 9-1-1.
• Get the person out of the sun immediately.
• Apply water to help the person cool off.
• Apply ice to the neck or armpits, where large blood vessels are close to the surface.
• Remove any heavy clothing.
For more information on heat safety, visit www.redcross.org or talk to your physician.