During the extremely hot weather that is predicted for Rhode Island and southern New England, here is some information from the CDC and Dr. Anthony Thomas, medical director for VNA of Care New England, to help you avoid heat-related illnesses.
You can suffer heat-related illness when your body is not able to properly cool itself. Your body normally cools itself by sweating, however in some conditions, sweating isn't enough. In such cases, your body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage vital organs.
Several factors affect your body's ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When humidity is high, as Rhode Island weather forecasters have predicted for this week, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, which will prevent your body from getting rid of heat quickly.
Other conditions affecting your risk of heat-related illness include:
- Poor circulatory problems.
- Heart disease.
- Mental illness.
- Alcohol use.
Who is at greatest risk?
Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. The elderly, the very young, and people with chronic diseases and mental illness are at highest risk. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness.
- People 65 years of age or older may not compensate for heat stress efficiently and are less likely to sense and respond to change in temperature. You should check on these adults at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
- Monitor the condition of your elderly family and friends and have someone do the same for you if you are 65 years of age or older. If you are 65 years of age or older, have a friend or relative call to check on you twice a day during a heat wave.
- Infants and children up to four years of age are sensitive to the effects of high temperatures. They rely on adults and older siblings to regulate their environments and provide adequate fluids. Infants and young children must be monitored several times a day.
- People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation, may be affected by extreme heat.
- People who are overweight may be prone to heat sickness because they tend to retain body heat.
- People who overexert themselves may become dehydrated and susceptible to heat sickness.
If you are homebound, the following tips are important.
- Stay indoors and, if possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. Air-conditioning is the number one factor that can protect you against heat-related illness and death.
- Do not rely on electric fans when temperatures are in the high 90s. Electric fans may provide comfort, but at high temperatures, they 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.
Drink Plenty of Fluids During Hot Weather
- Increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink fluids. Drink two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids every four hours.
Warning: If your doctor has limited the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, be sure to call your doctor and ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
- Do not drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar because these cause you to lose more body fluid.
- Avoid very cold drinks because they can cause stomach cramps.
Replace Salt and Minerals
Sweating removes salt and minerals from your body. Both are necessary and must be replaced. If you exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose through sweating. Warning: However, if you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage or taking salt tablets.
Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen
- Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
- If you must go outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (which will also keep you cooler) along with sunglasses, and by using a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels) 30 minutes prior to going out. Continue to reapply it according to the package directions.
If exertion makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, stop all activity. Get into a cool area and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint.
- Avoid hot foods and heavy meals - they add heat to your body.
- Drink plenty of fluids and replace salts and minerals in your body. Do not take salt tablets unless under medical supervision.
- Provide plenty of fresh water for your pets, and leave the water in a shady area.
Hot Weather Health Emergencies
Even short periods of high temperatures can cause serious health problems. Doing too much on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses. Know the symptoms of heat disorders and overexposure to the sun, and be ready to give first aid treatment.
Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. The body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Recognizing Heat Stroke
Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F, orally).
- Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating).
- Rapid, strong pulse.
- Throbbing headache.
What to Do
If you see any of these signs, they may indicate a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the victim by doing the following:
- Cool the victim quickly any way you can. Here are some ways you can use:
- Put the person in a tub of cool water.
- Place the person in a cool shower.
- Spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose.
- Sponge the person with cool water.
- If the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
- Monitor body temperature, and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
- If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
- Do not give the victim fluids to drink.
- Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
Sometimes a person's muscles will begin to twitch uncontrollably as a result of heat stroke. If this happens, keep the person from injuring himself or herself, but do not place any object in the mouth and do not give fluids. If there is vomiting, make sure the airway remains open by turning the victim on his or her side.
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. It is the body's response to an excessive loss of the water and salt contained in sweat. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.
Recognizing Heat Exhaustion
Warning signs of heat exhaustion include the following:
- Heavy sweating.
- Muscle cramps.
- Nausea or vomiting.
The skin may be cool and moist. The victim's pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow.
If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. Seek medical attention immediately if any of the following occurs:
- Symptoms are severe.
- The victim has heart problems or high blood pressure.
Otherwise, help the victim to cool off, and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than 1 hour.
What to Do
Cooling measures that may be effective include the following:
- Cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
- An air-conditioned setting.
- Cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
- Lightweight clothing.
Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body's salt and moisture. The low salt level in the muscles may be the cause of heat cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.
Recognizing Heat Cramps
Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms—usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs—that may occur in association with strenuous activity. If you have heart problems or are on a low-sodium diet, get medical attention for heat cramps.
What to Do
If medical attention is not necessary, take these steps:
- Stop all activity, and sit quietly in a cool place.
- Drink clear juice or a sports beverage.
- Do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside, because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
- Seek medical attention for heat cramps if they do not subside in 1 hour.
Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. It can occur at any age and is common in young children. Heat rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters.Your neck and upper chest, in the groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases are likely areas for heat rash.
What to Do
The best treatment for heat rash is to provide a cooler, less humid environment. Keep the affected area dry. Dusting powder may be used to increase comfort. Treating heat rash is simple and usually does not require medical assistance.
Other heat-related problems can be much more severe. If you have concerns about your health or the health of your family, friends or neighbors during this extremely hot weather, do not hesitate to call your doctor, hospital Emergency Department or 911.