With temperatures expected to be high again this week, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) reminds Hoosiers how to avoid heat-related illness, recognize the symptoms and respond appropriately if someone does become ill.
Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States. According to the National Weather Service, heat causes more fatalities per year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes.
“More than 150 Americans die every year from exposure to extremely high temperatures,” says IDHS Chief of Staff Mike Garvey. “There are several simple steps individuals can take to stay safe on hot days. Most heat related illness occurs when individuals have been overexposed to heat or have overexerted themselves.” Garvey is an EMS professional with 33 years of experience. IDHS provides training and credentialing to all EMS personnel throughout the state, and certifies training institutions and all emergency medical transports.
How hot is extremely hot?
When temperatures reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, overexposure to the heat can be hazardous. Humid conditions, frequently experienced in Indiana, can add to the discomfort and danger of high temperatures.
What causes heat related illness?
Under normal conditions, the body’s internal thermostat produces perspiration that evaporates and cools the body. In extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. Heat-related illness occurs when high temperatures overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate internal temperatures.
The elderly and very young are most susceptible to serious heat related illnesses. Check in regularly with elderly family members who may not have air conditioning.
You can reduce your risk for heat related illnesses by following these tips:
•Keep yourself hydrated and nourished. Drink fluids regularly, regardless of your activity level. Avoid sugary, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages as they will dehydrate you faster. Eat smaller meals and more frequently. Although heat may lessen your appetite, your body needs proper nutrition to function.
•Take time to cool off. If possible, stay indoors in an air-conditioned building. If your home does not have air conditioning, spend time at a movie theatre, shopping mall, public library, or other air-conditioned public facility. Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Check locally to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
•Never leave animals, children or elderly individuals inside a vehicle! Even if you are just leaving the vehicle for a minute and have all the windows rolled down, it is extremely dangerous to leave anyone, or an animal, inside a vehicle during summer temperatures.
The two most serious heat related illnesses are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion typically occurs when an individual exercises heavily or works in a hot, humid location and the body is unable to replace the fluids lost through heavy sweating. The victim may be sweating profusely, have cool, clammy or ashen colored skin, and be dizzy or nauseous. Move the victim to a cooler location and give them water to sip slowly. If the victim is unable to drink fluids or their condition does not improve rapidly, take them to the emergency room or call 911 immediately as heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke if not addressed quickly.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the victim’s internal temperature control system fails. Body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. The victim’s skin will likely be hot, red and dry because they have stopped sweating. They may be dizzy, disoriented or unconscious. If you believe someone is experiencing these symptoms, this is a severe medical emergency and you should call 911 immediately. The victim’s body must be cooled immediately to prevent death. Immerse the victim in a cool bath or use wet sheets, ice bags, fans or air conditioners to reduce body temperature. Place bags of ice next to the victim’s major arteries in the neck, armpits and groin. The ice will cool the blood and the bloodstream will carry the cooled blood through the body. Watch for signs of breathing problems and be prepared to start rescue breathing and CPR if their pulse or breathing stops.