Blog Material Written By: Corey Edmonds, MPH, Community Health Worker
Warm temperatures and sunny skies – largely the most sought-out weather conditions for human beings around the world. I think it is safe to say that this is especially the case for those living in seasonal temperate climates, like us here in Western Maryland, Northern West Virginia, and South-Central Pennsylvania. Most years, our weather is largely cloudy, cool, wet, and dreary from November through mid-May before giving way to what is often sharp rises in daily high temperatures and long stretches of dry, arid, sunny skies from late May through early October. It is easy to understand why this weather is so highly sought out, but it can also be easy to forget that this warm, enjoyable weather comes with its own set of dangers that can easily be deadly if not taken seriously.
According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The National Weather Service (NWS), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), extreme heat conditions are responsible for more deaths in the United States than any other weather-related emergency or disaster. That means heat is more deadly than hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods – any other form of weather. I’d be willing to bet that most of us never would have guessed that to be the case, but it is and we have to be aware of it.
There are various different types of heat-related illnesses, with the three most prominent being heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of each and what to do when you or someone around you is suspected to be falling victim to one of them. The table below helps to break all of that down for you.
|Signs & Symptoms
|Actions to Take
|Muscle pains or spasms in the stomach, arms, or legs.
|Go to a cooler location. Remove excess clothing. Take sips of cool sports drinks with salt and sugar. If you’re sick and need medical attention, contact a medical professional first. If cramps last more than one hour, seek medical attention.
|Heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, fainting, nausea, and vomiting.
|Go to an air-conditioned place and lie down. Loosen or remove clothing. Take a cold bath. Take sips of cool sports drinks with salt and sugar. Contact a medical professional or seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last more than one hour.
|Extremely high body temperature (>103 degrees) taken orally. Red, hot and dry skin with no sweat. Rapid, strong pulse. Dizziness, confusion, or unconsciousness.
|Call 9-1-1 or get the person to a hospital immediately. Cool down with whatever methods are available until help arrives.
Of course, just like most any other form of danger, heat illness and especially heatstroke can be easily prevented. An easy-to-remember acronym that can help to make sure you’re always at the top of your heat awareness game is:
|ydrate. Whether you feel thirsty or not, drink plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated, especially when you’re working or exercising outside.
|ducate yourself. Keep up with the latest temperature and heat index forecasts and current readings. Take actions to stay cool and safe when the temperatures hit 85 degrees or the heat index hits 90 degrees. Know the warning signs of heat illnesses and how you can stay cool where you are.
|ct quickly when a heat illness is suspected. Seek medical attention immediately for any of these warning signs: cramping, rapid pulse, heavy sweating, hot red skin, dizziness, confusion, nausea, vomiting.
|ake it easy. Anyone working or exercising outdoors should avoid overexertion, especially between the hours of 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Take hourly breaks in the shade or in air conditioning.
Some are more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses than others. Those groups that are more vulnerable include young children and infants, older adults, people with chronic medical conditions, and women who are pregnant. Young children and infants are particularly vulnerable because their bodies are less able to adapt to heat than more mature bodies. Older adults are of a higher risk, most usually due to being more isolated and being more likely to have preexisting conditions and to be on medications. Pregnant women are notably at-risk due to patterns of extreme heat events being associated with adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight, preterm birth, congenital cataracts, and even infant mortality or death.
While the warm, sunny weather is generally regarded as the most enjoyable, it is important to keep heat safety at the forefront of our minds throughout the summer months. It is absolutely okay to get out there and take full advantage of all of the greatness and beauty that Mother Nature has to offer, however, it is most certainly not worth the loss of life due to ignorance in regards to heat safety. Get out there. Have fun. Enjoy the warm weather while it lasts. But never forget to stay cool.