Heat waves are very dangerous yet its effects are preventable. Unfortunately, extreme heat is responsible for the highest number of annual deaths among all weather-related hazards, according to ready.gov. To help put your mind at ease, we’ve answered some of the most common questions related to extreme heat.
What is considered a heat wave?
A heat wave is defined as a period of 2 or more consecutive days where the daily maximum temperature is exceptionally high for a given area. In most cases, this is a temperature of over 90°F and is oftentimes combined with high humidity.
How long do heat waves last?
Heat waves typically last 2 to 3 days but in some cases can last weeks or months. The local weather report should be able to give you a better prediction of how much time to expect.
Why is extreme heat dangerous? What are the effects of heat waves?
Extremely high temperatures can cause environmental, electrical, economic, and physical problems.
How does extreme heat affect the environment?
Excessive heat can also cause fires, droughts, ruin crop production, and impact animals, including livestock. Not only do farmers suffer monetarily, but consumers suffer because of a food and water shortage, high demand, and increased prices. Not to mention, if you lose your home due to a fire that was linked to extreme heat.
How does extreme heat affect electricity?
Another problem that heat poses is to the power supply. The overuse of power can cause widespread power outages, leaving people without air conditioning, fans, and other ways of keeping cool. This increases their chances of hyperthermia.
How does extreme heat affect the human body?
The most important concern is that extreme heat can severely compromise your health and in some cases lead to hyperthermia—the opposite of hypothermia. Severe heat can cause heat cramps, dehydration, swelling, fatigue, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, as well as worsen pre-existing heart and respiratory conditions.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and NOAA, heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the United States. An average of 658 people dies each year due to heat-related illnesses. Small children and adults over the age of 65 are at a much higher risk of experiencing health issues due to excessive heat.
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What are the initial signs of a heat-related emergency?
There are varying degrees of heat illness. Depending on the severity, a person can experience heat rash, sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. If you or someone near you is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned below, seek help immediately. Note that this information is taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can visit their website here.
Symptoms of heat rash:
- Clusters of small blisters or red bumps on the skin that cause itchiness
Symptoms of heat cramps:
- Muscle cramps
- Excessive sweating is another symptom, especially if you have been doing physical activities
Symptoms of heat exhaustion:
- Muscle cramps
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid pulse
- Pale or clammy skin
Symptoms of heat stroke:
- A body temperature of 103°F or higher
- Loss of consciousness
- Clammy or dry skin
- Hot and red skin
For information on how to help someone that is experiencing heat illness, check out the CDC’s infographic here.
How do you deal with heat waves?
In order to stay healthy during heat waves, you can do the following:
- Hydrate often
- Try to spend as little time outdoors as possible, especially during peak hours
- Stay in air-conditioned places, whether that’s at home, at the movie theater, library, or mall, or a cooling centers in your area (if available)
- Wear light and loose-fitting clothing
- Soak bandanas and towels in water and freeze them- use them as cooling cloths whenever needed
- Monitor your loved ones who may be vulnerable to heat illness, including babies, young children, and elderly people
For more information on the do’s and don’ts of heat wave safety, check out this guide!
Can you build a tolerance to the heat?
Research suggests that you can build up your tolerance to the heat. Even though it may take some time to adjusts, some ways you can do this are by wearing the appropriate clothing, drinking lots of water daily, choose fans over air conditioning, and do micro-workouts while it’s hot out (still, be wise and don’t put your health at risk).
What is the best thing to drink in hot weather?
The best things to drink during hot weather are water, water with lemon and cucumber, water with lemon and mint, coconut water, fresh watermelon juice, fresh grapefruit juice, electrolyte water, iced tea, and hot tea (preferably non-caffeinated, but green tea is okay). Be sure to stay hydrated.
Look here for a list of the food and drinks that dehydrate you. You’ll want to steer clear from those!
How much water should you drink in a heat wave?
According to the Mayo Clinic and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, adult men need about 15.5 cups (or 3.7 liters) of water per day, whereas adult women need about 11.5 cups (or 2.7 liters). This, of course, includes a combination of fluids from water, other beverages, and food. Roughly 20% of your daily water intake comes from other drinks and food.
During periods of extreme heat, you should increase your water intake by a few cups since your body will be losing a lot more water through sweat. This also goes for the times when you exercise, when you’re battling a fever, vomiting, or have any other health issue, and for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
With all of that in mind, a good rule of thumb is to drink as much water as it takes for your pee to come out clear or faint yellow. TMI, I know…but trust me, this will be easier to remember than having to tally up how many cups of water you’ve drunk throughout the day.
Can you swim during a heat advisory?
Swimming pools become crowded during heat waves and for obvious reasons! Cold pool water allows your body to cool off relatively quickly. A jacuzzi will do the opposite, so avoid hot pools. If you’re going to get in the water, remember to wear waterproof sunscreen to protect your skin. It’s also recommended that you wear a hat, even if the day is cloudy.
For more information on heat wave safety, check out our guide here. We’ve provided a printable checklist for you as well. Keep the list with your emergency supplies, and refer back to it when you need it in the future.
Do you have any questions about heat waves that weren’t answered? If so, leave them in the comments below!
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