Health Department Offers Safety Tips for Extreme Heat

July 1, 2019

Extremely hot weather can cause sickness or even death, yet heat-related illness is preventable. Each year, extreme heat causes more deaths than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined.

There are precautions you can take for you, your family and co-workers to prevent heat-related illness. Stay updated on local weather forecasts, and take steps to stay cool and hydrated to keep safe from illness such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Because your body loses fluids during hot weather, you can become dehydrated during times of extreme heat. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink more fluids – drink fluids regularly regardless of your activity level. Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar as these can actually cause you to become more dehydrated.

If possible, stay in an air-conditioned place during the hottest times of the day. If your home does not have air-conditioning, find an air-conditioned shelter such as a shopping mall or library to cool off. Don’t rely on electric fans for cooling – during extreme heat, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Take cool showers or baths and wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

If you must be outside, limit your activities to morning and evening hours. Cut down on exercise, and drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic beverages each hour. Try to rest often in shady areas.

Extreme heat can affect anyone, but certain populations are most vulnerable:

Infants and Children: Infants and young children are sensitive to the effects of extreme heat. Never leave infants or children in a parked car for any amount of time, even if the windows are open – the temperature in a car can rise over 20 degrees in 10 minutes, even when it’s not particularly hot outside. Always check the back seats prior to locking and walking away from your car.

The Elderly: People aged 65 years and older are more prone to heat-related health problems. If you have elderly family members or neighbors, closely monitor them to make sure they have access to air conditioning, are drinking enough water, and aren’t showing signs of heat-related illness.

People with Medical Conditions: People with chronic medical conditions may be taking medications that can worsen the impact of extreme heat, and they may also be less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. Monitor them to make sure they are drinking adequate amounts of water and have access to air conditioning.

Outdoor Workers: People who work outdoors are more likely to become dehydrated and get heat-related illness. Make sure to drink two to four glasses of water each hour while working. If possible, perform outdoor tasks earlier or later in the day to avoid midday heat. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing and spend time in air-conditioned buildings during breaks if possible. Develop a “buddy system” with co-workers while outdoors to ensure that everyone is safe, drinking water, and cooling off when necessary.

Athletes: People who exercise outdoors may become dehydrated and get heat-related illness. Schedule workouts and practices earlier or later in the day when the temperature is cooler. Pace activities by starting slowly and gradually increasing the pace. Drink plenty of water. Monitor a teammate’s condition and have them do the same for you.

Pets: Never leave pets in a parked car, even with the windows open – temperatures can rapidly rise to dangerous levels. Adjust intensity and duration of exercise for your pet when it is extremely hot outside. Asphalt gets very hot, so walk your dog on the grass if possible. When your pet is outside, provide ample shade and cold water.

Warning signs of heat-related illness vary but may include:

Remember that heat stroke is a medical emergency – if someone is experiencing symptoms of heat stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately!  While waiting for medical attention, move the victim to a cooler environment and reduce their body temperature with cool cloths or even a bath. Do NOT give fluids.

For more information about preventing heat-related illness, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.