APU Health & Fitness Original

Recognizing and Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses This Summer

As the temperatures continue to soar into the triple-digit range this summer, it’s important to be aware of heat-related illnesses and how to prevent them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), extreme heat is defined as those temperatures during the summer that are hotter and/or more humid than normal. In the southern states, 90 degrees may be the average during August, but in northern areas of the United States, especially in Alaska, 85 to 90 degrees will be abnormally high.

Heat-related illnesses occur when the body is not able to cool itself properly, which may result in a number of symptoms. The three stages in heat-related illnesses are heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Related link: Get more tips on beating summer heat by visiting the CDC’s “Beat the Heat” infographic

If Not Treated, Heat Exhaustion Can Lead to Heatstroke, a Life-Threatening Condition

According to the Cleveland Clinic, symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, nausea and vomiting, headache, fatigue, and muscle cramps. If not treated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which can be a life-threatening condition. The CDC considers heatstroke a life-threatening condition during which the individual may experience a body temperature of 103 degrees or higher. Other symptoms include hot, red, dry or damp skin; a fast pulse, nausea, and vomiting. Losing consciousness is also a possibility.

To prevent heat-related illnesses, the Cleveland Clinic first recommends avoid becoming overheated. If the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory and you have to be outside, it’s important to take frequent breaks in the shade or other cool areas.

When exercising or participating in physical activity, wear loose, breathable clothing. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, drink water or a sports drink frequently. Staying hydrated will also reduce your risk of a heat-related illness.

If you have a job that requires you to be outdoors, such as road construction or lawn care, wear a hat with a brim to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays and always use sunscreen. If possible, plan to be outdoors early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are cooler.

Younger Children Are More Susceptible to Heat-Related Illnesses

Younger children are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses because they are unable to regulate their body temperature. So never leave children or pets in a parked car because inside temperatures can quickly heat up to dangerous levels even with the windows cracked open.

When younger children are playing outside or competing in youth sports, Kids Health recommends teaching them to drink water often, even if they claim they aren’t thirsty. Rather than dark-colored clothing, children should wear loose, light-colored clothing and sunscreen. Parents should time children’s activities so they play outside during the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning.

Educating children to recognize the signs that they are overheating will help prevent heat cramps or heat exhaustion. When children feel hot and nauseous and cramps start to develop in their abdomen or legs, it’s time to take them indoors so they can cool down.  

Seattle Times Readers Use Creative Ways to Beat the Heat

Unfortunately, there are some metro areas in the United States that do not have central air conditioning. In a 2018 article in The Seattle Times, approximately 34% of Seattle households had air conditioning. In San Francisco, that percentage was slightly higher at 36%.

These startling statistics led the Seattle Times to ask readers the question of how do people cool off if their homes do not have air conditioning. Readers of the Times shared some creative ways to cool down during the higher summer temperatures.

One reader wets her clothes, freezes them and then puts them back on.  Another reader hoses down the roof and exterior of her house after sundown. She claims that her house cools off about 10 degrees from that tactic.

Even with these creative suggestions, those susceptible to heat-related illnesses should reach out to their local public health department for information on cooling centers during the day, such as a community center, library, or shelter. 

Dr. Gayle Walter is currently a part-time faculty member in the Public Health program. She earned her Ph.D. in Public Health and her Master of Public Health (MPH from Walden University with an emphasis on community health promotion and education. Her undergraduate degree is in health services administration. She has been teaching in graduate and undergraduate programs in public health and health care administration for several years. Her subject matter areas of expertise include the U.S. healthcare system, the social determinants of health and cultural competency.

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