How to Keep Yourself and Loved Ones Safe as Heat Waves Scorch the Country

A dangerous heat wave settled over Midwestern and Southern states earlier this week as triple digit temperatures combined with high humidity have health officials urging people to stay hydrated and remain indoors.

Close to 100 million people — nearly one-third of the population — are expected to be in areas of dangerously hot and humid conditions, according to the National Weather Service. Excessive Heat Warnings and Heat Advisories span from Michigan to northern Florida, along with parts of southern California and Arizona.

Above Normal Temperatures May Continue Through August

The National Weather Service says a majority of states will continue to see above-normal temperatures through nearly the end of June, and a recent climate trend report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated that above normal temperatures are likely to continue through August for most of the country.

Heat advisories are based on how prepared a community is for the high temps (central Florida is more accustomed to extreme heat compared with Alaska) and the expected heat index. The heat index is what temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with air temperature, per the National Weather Service.

Heat exposure not only causes about 700 deaths per year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but there’s evidence to suggest that days of high temperatures may negatively affect our mental health, too.

study published in October 2021 that looked at visits to New York emergency rooms found that hot days were associated with higher risk of emergency room visits for substance abuse, mood and anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and dementia.

What Happens to Our Bodies in Extremely Hot Temperatures

“Our body regulates temperatures both hot and cold centrally, however, our capacity to tolerate cold exceeds the body’s ability to adapt to heat,” says David Berkoff, MD, professor of orthopaedics and associate professor of emergency medicine at UNC Health in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

When we get hot, our bodies begin to sweat, and the evaporation of the sweat is a cooling process. But in humid conditions, the rate of evaporation decreases — the body is not able to regulate its temperature as well and we feel warmer. Timely treatment of heat-related illness with aggressive hydration and by cooling the core body temperature can keep it from becoming an emergency.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the most serious heat-related illnesses. Muscle cramping, fatigue, headache, nausea or vomiting, and dizziness or fainting can all be symptoms of heat exhaustion. “In heat exhaustion, our bodies begin to fall behind and lose the ability to maintain a safe core temperature,” says Dr. Berkoff. A person with heat exhaustion often has cool and moist skin, but their pulse is fast and weak, and breathing is rapid and shallow.

If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which is a serious, life-threatening condition. Symptoms can include the following:

Who Is Most Vulnerable Illness Due to Extreme Heat?

Although high temperatures can be brutal for everyone, there are a few groups who are more vulnerable to heat-related illness and death, according to the National Weather Service:

Closely monitor young children and infants for any signs of heat illnesses. For people who can respond to questions, the CDC says to ask if they are drinking enough water, if they have access to air conditioning, and if they need help keeping cool.

Tips for Staying Healthy During a Heat Wave

When possible, stay indoors in an air-conditioned place as much as possible, according to the CDC. Even though running an electric fan can provide a little relief, when the temperatures are in the high 90s or hotter, they don’t prevent health-related illnesses. If you don’t have AC, taking a cool shower or bath is a better way to cool off. Avoid using your stove and oven if possible.

Other tips from the CDC include:

Too Hot to Sleep? Try These Tips

During extreme heat waves, it can be harder to sleep. Consumer Reports offers a few tips that can help you fall asleep and stay asleep in warmer temperatures:

This content was originally published here.

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