The length of extreme heat has a significant impact on how individuals are impacted by a heat wave. Excessive heat that lasts more than two days, according to studies, causes a considerable increase in heat-related disorders. Spending at least two hours every day in air conditioning reduces the frequency of heat-related diseases substantially.
Depending on where you live in the United States, you may have already experienced "severe heat"—that is, weather that is significantly hotter and more humid than historical norms.
While hot weather is undoubtedly a part of summer, more than 100 million Americans throughout the country suffered dangerous and record-breaking heat conditions or heat advisories issued by the National Weather Service over the weekend. In Austin, Texas, where the city had its 44th day of triple-digit temperatures, news headlines said that the city was on course to have its warmest summer on record. In Boston, Massachusetts, the temperature reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking previous records.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom set a new record for the warmest day in history, hitting 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hello and welcome to the new normal. According to experts, while high summer heat is not wholly new, these types of events may become a routine part of life, forcing people to begin learning how to live with extended stretches of heat waves that may last the remainder of the summer and well into the future.
For the past 30 years, high heat has been the most dangerous kind of extreme weather in the United States. Extreme heat induced by climate change and people's energy choices is something we'll have to deal with for the foreseeable future and at least the next several decades.
As the effects of climate change get more severe by the day, here's what you need to know about the hazards of high heat and what you can do to modify your lifestyle and be safe in the future.
What exactly is extreme heat?
The limits of a severe heat watch, warning, or advice might differ depending on where you live. Extreme heat is described as temperatures that are 10 degrees or more over the typical high temperature for the region, continue for extended periods of time, and are frequently accompanied by excessive humidity, and that the body cannot handle. A heat wave may be quite harmful.
Persons living in cities may be more vulnerable to the impacts of a protracted heat wave than people living in rural areas. When stagnant atmospheric conditions trap pollutants in metropolitan areas, adding unclean air to extremely high temperatures, an increased health hazard can arise, particularly for people with respiratory difficulties. Furthermore, asphalt and concrete retain heat longer and gradually release heat at night, resulting in much higher nighttime temperatures in metropolitan areas, a phenomenon known as the "urban heat island effect."
Understand the following terms:
- Heat wave: A prolonged period of extreme heat, frequently accompanied by extreme humidity. When the National Weather Service predicts a rise in human heat-related diseases, it strengthens its processes to inform the public.
- Heat index: When relative humidity is added to the actual air temperature, this value in degrees Fahrenheit (F) indicates how hot it truly feels. Full sun exposure can raise the heat index by 15 degrees.
- Heat cramps: Heat cramps are muscle discomfort and spasms caused by strenuous exercise. Although heat cramps are the least severe, they are frequently the first indication that the body is struggling with the heat.
- Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion often happens when people engage in strenuous activity or labor in a hot, humid environment when bodily fluids are lost via excessive perspiration. Blood flow to the skin increases, whereas blood flow to the important organs decreases. This causes a minor sort of shock. The victim's condition will deteriorate if not treated. The victim's body temperature will continue to rise, and he or she may suffer from heat stroke.
- Heat stroke: Heat stroke is a potentially fatal condition. The victim's temperature regulation mechanism, which causes perspiration to cool the body, malfunctions. If the body is not immediately cooled, the temperature might climb so high that brain damage and death can occur. Heat stroke is also known as sunstroke.
Pay attention to signals:
- Heat exhaustion: Cool, moist, pale, or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. The body temperature might be normal or increasing.
- Heat stroke: Hot, red skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can reach 105 degrees Fahrenheit at times. The skin may be damp if the person was sweating from severe work or activity; otherwise, it may feel dry.
What is the danger of extreme heat?
Even if intense heat does not typically destroy infrastructure in minutes, as a major hurricane or flood could, heat catastrophes can still kill thousands of people.
Extreme heat is dangerous because it can produce catastrophic health implications such as severe dehydration and heat stroke. Heat stroke causes an increase in body temperature, which can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles, according to Ashwini Sehgal, MD, a bioethics professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
Extreme heat may be fatal. Every year, many thousand individuals die in the United States as a result of heat.
According to the EPA, more than 1,300 people die in the United States each year as a result of excessive heat. Furthermore, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 8,000 heat-related fatalities were documented in the United States between 1999 and 2010, with 72 percent of those deaths caused by excessive heat exposure (CDC).
Your core temperature increases when your body's capacity to disperse heat and keep the body core cool fails. The body attempts to cool itself mostly by sweating by increasing blood flow to the skin's surface in order to disperse heat.
However, if the body is unable to keep up with the required cooling, it can result in heat exhaustion, swelling, cramps, and fainting. On average, more than 65,000 emergency department visits for heat-related disorders are made in the United States each year.
In addition to heat stroke, extreme heat events often result in an increase in mortality from other reasons such as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders, among others, since the higher temperatures place a significant lot of additional stress on those organ systems, according to Knowlton. Because aging weakens the heart and lungs, older persons are the most sensitive to heat and account for the bulk of heat-related fatalities.
How to treat a heat emergency
- Heat stroke: Heat stroke is a potentially fatal condition. Help is urgently required. 9-1-1 or your local emergency number should be dialed. Transfer the individual to a cooler location. Cool the body quickly. Immerse the sufferer in a chilly bath, or wrap wet blankets around it and fan it. Keep an eye out for signs of respiratory issues. Maintain the person's laying position and continue to cool the body in whatever manner you can. If the sufferer rejects water, vomits, or has a change in consciousness, do not offer him or her anything to eat or drink.
- Heat cramps: Move the person to a cooler location and situate him or her in a comfortable position. Stretch the injured muscle gently and refill fluids. Every 15 minutes, give a half glass of cold water. Liquids containing alcohol or caffeine should not be given since they might worsen dehydration.
- Heat exhaustion: Remove the individual from the heat and relocate them in a cooler location. Remove or loosen tight garments and cover with cold, moist items such as towels or blankets. Give the person cold water to drink if they are conscious. Make sure the individual sips slowly. Every 15 minutes, give a half glass of cold water. Allow the sufferer to relax in a comfortable posture and keep an eye out for changes in his or her health.
Prepare for extreme heat
If your home does not have air conditioning, consider going somewhere else to escape the heat during the hottest portion of the day. On the warmest days, schools, libraries, theaters, and other community institutions frequently provide air-conditioned respite. Air conditioning is the most secure way to escape excessive heat. During the 1995 Midwest heat wave, the majority of fatalities occurred among persons who were not in air-conditioned buildings.
Change your daily routine to prevent intense labor during the hottest portion of the day. If they do heavy labor during the hottest hours of the day, even the healthiest people might succumb to the effects of heat. Dehydration symptoms are difficult to identify and are frequently confused with other causes. Dehydration happens rapidly and makes you sick.
Some family members may be taking drugs or have medical disorders that produce poor blood circulation or decreased heat tolerance. Consult a doctor about your concerns. A doctor can advise you on medication modifications or other actions you can take to temporarily ease the symptoms of heat.
Plan to visit relatives, friends, and neighbors who do not have air conditioning or who spend a significant amount of time alone. On hot days, elderly people who live alone or with a working relative may require help. During the 1995 Midwest heat wave, the majority of fatalities occurred among those who were alone.
Wear light-colored, lightweight clothes. Light hues will reflect more of the sun's rays than dark colors will absorb.
Get some instruction. Learn how to address heat problems and other situations by enrolling in an American Red Cross first aid course. Because the impacts of heat may occur fast, everyone should be prepared to respond.
Talk about the excessive heat wave with your family. Everyone should be aware of what to do in public spaces. During a heat wave, certain sites may not be air conditioned or safe, so make alternate plans. Discussing excessive heat in advance reduces fear and anxiety and informs everyone on how to cope.
What should you do in extreme heat?
Individuals who find themselves suddenly having to deal with frequent extreme heat events, particularly high temperatures that continue for lengthy periods of time, should begin to alter their typical physical activities and habits. Plan activities for cooler times of day, such as early morning and late evening, to adapt to climate change.
Remember that excessive heat may affect even healthy, young athletes, therefore any exercise, indoors or outdoors, should be considered when extreme heat strikes. Because not every home, school, or business has air conditioning, everyone should take measures.
Take it easy. Avoid vigorous exercise. Strenuous activities should be reduced, eliminated, or rescheduled. Individuals who are at high risk should stay in cool settings. Allow your natural "cooling system" to function by getting plenty of rest. If you must engage in vigorous exercise, do it during the coolest period of the day, which is generally between 4:00 and 7:00 a.m. Many heat problems occur while individuals exercise or work during the warmest period of the day.
Avoid getting too much sun. Sunburn reduces the ability of the skin to cool itself. The sun will also heat your body's inner core, causing dehydration. Make use of a sunscreen lotion with a high sun protection factor (SPF).
Outdoor games and activities should be postponed. Extreme heat can endanger the health of participants, spectators, and personnel at outdoor events and activities.
Avoid drastic temperature swings. A chilly shower quickly after coming in from high weather can cause hypothermia, especially in the elderly and very young.
Stay as much as possible indoors. If air conditioning isn't available, stay on the ground floor and out of the sun. Even in the hottest heat, staying indoors and out of the sun is safer than prolonged sun exposure.
Keep the heat out and the cold air in. Close any registers that may be allowing heat to enter. Install temporary reflectors in windows and skylights, such as aluminum foil coated cardboard, to reflect heat back outside.
Conserve whatever power that is not required to keep you cool. People tend to consume a lot more power for air conditioning during periods of high heat. Conserve any electricity that is not being used to keep you cool so that power may be maintained and the possibility of a community-wide outage is reduced.
During peak usage periods, vacuum air conditioner filters regularly. Filters in air conditioners can become clogged or loaded with debris, reducing their efficiency. By keeping them clean, your air conditioner will be able to offer more cold air.
If your home does not have air conditioning, spend several hours each day at a public place that does. Because electric fans do not chill the air, air conditioned locations are the safest places to be during excessive heat. Fans aid in the evaporation of perspiration, which provides a cooling effect.
Put on proper clothing:
- Wear clothes that is loose-fitting, lightweight, and light in color to cover as much skin as possible. Lightweight, light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunshine, assisting in the maintenance of normal body temperature. To avoid sunburn and the overheating effects of sunshine on your body, cover as much skin as possible.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and head. A hat will keep the sun off your face and head. The sun may both burn and warm your body's core.
Even if you don't feel thirsty, drink lots of water. Dehydration can cause injury and death, and it can happen fast and unrecognized. Dehydration symptoms are frequently mistaken with those of other conditions. Before increasing liquid consumption, anyone with epilepsy, heart, kidney, or liver illness, those on fluid-restrictive diets, or those with fluid retention should see a doctor. Drink lots of water on a regular and frequent basis. To stay cool, your body requires water. During a heat emergency, the safest liquid to consume is water.
If you must work outside, take regular breaks. People who take frequent breaks, especially in a cool environment or to drink fluids, can withstand heat better.
When working in intense heat, use a buddy system. Partners may keep an eye on one other and help each other when necessary. Heat can occasionally affect judgment. If you work alone, you might not notice this.
Avoid alcoholic and caffeine-containing beverages. They might temporarily help you feel better, but they exacerbate the effects of heat on your body. This is particularly true with beer, which dehydrates the body.
Eat smaller meals more frequently. Large, heavy meals are more difficult to digest and force your body to raise internal heat to help digestion, exacerbating the situation. Avoid high-protein foods, such as meats and nuts, which raise metabolic heat.
Unless otherwise prescribed by a physician, avoid using salt pills. Because salt encourages the body to retain fluids, it promotes edema. Salt has an effect on parts of your body that help you sweat, which keeps you cool. People on salt-restricted diets should see a doctor before increasing their salt consumption.
NEVER leave children or pets alone in a parked car. Temperatures inside a closed car can quickly exceed 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Such extreme temperatures have the potential to kill in minutes.
Learn the symptoms of heat sickness, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, which can be fatal. Know where to go for assistance if you require it. Check on your loved ones frequently, including your pets and neighbors. Keep cool and hydrated until the temps drop.
Long-term heat adaptation
Heat waves are here to stay. This means that people will increasingly need to learn how to deal with prolonged periods of extreme heat. One approach to do this is to maintain general health by obtaining frequent exercise and eating the most nutritious meals. These actions can assist to keep the body's natural heat regulation strong and functioning properly.
You should also develop the practice of keeping track of excessive temperatures in your neighborhood. The CDC maintains a Heat & Health Tracker platform, which may be used to receive local information on heat conditions in your area, allowing you to better plan and respond. The tracker may be used to investigate how heat affects your county and even provides information to assist in responding to heat events. Accessing such tools, as well as educating oneself about heat and being healthy in general, will be a vital aspect of life.
Learn how to stay cool and reduce your risk of heat exhaustion and other catastrophic problems. There is a lot of useful information available. People in places where air conditioning is not generally required during the summer may need to consider future upgrades to their home to keep it cool. Plant extra trees to provide shade for the house. When replacing a roof, a lighter hue may be preferable since it reflects more of the sun's energy than a darker surface.
Governments also have a role and obligation to play, since local governments may take efforts to help citizens, infrastructure, and systems lessen their sensitivity to heat.
According to the EPA, increasing the amount of green areas and planting more trees at the community level can give much needed access to shade during high heat events. According to the EPA, governments can also employ energy-efficient measures to decrease interruptions and stress on electrical infrastructure during heat waves. Cooling roofs or pavements can also be used by cities to mitigate excessive temperatures in metropolitan areas.
Governments might also construct early warning systems and urban cooling facilities, which would be extremely beneficial.
The most important step we can take, in addition to all of these heat adaptations, is to push for the use of cleaner, non-polluting renewable energy sources like wind and solar, so that we don't add additional heat-trapping pollution to the world's atmosphere.