Heat Safety – A Habit of Health
How is the weather in your neck of the woods? It seems like everyone is dealing with high heat these days. Have you heard of the saying, “Dog days of summer?”
What is that saying all about? Everyone knows that the “dog days of summer” occur during the hottest and muggiest part of the season.
Webster defines “dog days” as:
1: the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere
2: a period of stagnation or inactivity
Realizing that most of us are dealing with the dog days of summer, I thought I would share some advice on how to safely deal with the heat.
Extreme heat events, or heat waves, are the most common cause of weather-related deaths in the United States. They cause more deaths each year than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.
Heat stress is heat-related illness caused by your body’s inability to cool down properly. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.
Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions related to risk include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use.
Heat stress ranges from milder conditions like heat rash and heat cramps, to the most common type, heat exhaustion. The most serious heat-related illness is heat stroke. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Anyone can develop heat stress. However, the following groups of people have higher risks for experiencing heat stress or heat-related death:
- Infants and children up to four years of age,
- People 65 years of age and older,
- People who are overweight, and
- People who are ill or on certain medications
Heat-related death or illnesses are preventable if you follow a few simple steps.
- Stay in an air-conditioned area during the hottest hours of the day. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, go to a public place such as a shopping mall or a library to stay cool. Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
- Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
- Keep blinds and curtains closed from morning until the late afternoon to block extra direct heat from sunlight.
- Wear light, loose-fitting clothing. When in the sun, wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim(also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses. Apply sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels).
- Drink water often. Don’t wait until you are thirsty. Drink more fluids regardless of your activity level. Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar, or those that are carbonated or contain caffeine. These actually cause you to lose more body fluid and can lead to dehydration. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps. According to the Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stress page provided by the Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service, when temperatures climb above 90 degrees, it’s important to drink at least a gallon of liquid per day, preferably water. Those who are overweight and in humid conditions need even more.
- If you exercise outside, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat.
- Avoid unnecessary hard work or activities if you are outside or in a building without air-conditioning. Avoid unnecessary sun exposure. Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. Try to rest often in shady areas.
- Properly supervise children during outdoor play, being sure to monitor them closely and frequently.
- NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.
- Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.
- If you feel any headaches, fatigue or irritability or notice your exercise performance decreasing, stop exercising and cool off.
Foods that may help you “Cool Down”
Cucumbers are more than 90 percent water. They are also rich in vitamins, alkaloids and chlorophyll, and effectively replenish electrolytes. I usually slice them up like sticks and munch on them.
Cilantro is known for having the ability to keep one’s body temperature cool in the summer. Cilantro was essential in Vietnamese cuisine because it kept people cool in their hot climate.
Room temperature water
Apparently, when you drink room temperature water instead of cold water, your body can absorb it much faster. In the beginning you may feel like room temperature water doesn’t satisfy your thirst. But try taking just a sip of water when you are thirsty and let it sit on your tongue for a bit. You will no longer feel the need to gulp down a cold glass of water.
In the summer, head to a tomato harvest area and purchase a boxful of tomatoes.
Tomatoes are great for keeping yourself hydrated in summer. (And by keeping yourself hydrated, you can stay cool).
Vegetables that contain lots of water can help you feel energized and light this summer — cucumber, celery, zucchini, tomatoes, summer squash, lettuce, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, bok choy, asparagus, cauliflower, sprouts, radish, and leafy greens. Add these to your favorite dish and you’re all set to beat the summer heat.
Remember, it is easier to prevent heat illness than to treat it once symptoms develop.
By: Freida F. Keller, RN