Surviving a Summer Heat Wave
Summer heat waves bring unusually high temperatures that may last for days or weeks. In the summer of 1980, a severe heat wave hit the United States, and nearly 1,700 people lost their lives from heat-related illness. Each year, high temperatures put people at risk.
People suffer heat-related illness when the body's temperature control system is overloaded. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn't enough. In such cases, a person's body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.
To protect your health when temperatures are extremely high, remember to keep cool and use common sense. The following tips are important.
Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen
Wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. (A big white T-shirt works well for children.) In the hot sun, a wide-brimmed hat will provide shade and keep the head cool.
Sunburn affects your body's (and your baby's) ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the skin. A variety of sunscreens are available to reduce the risk of sunburn. The protection that they offer against sunburn varies. Check the sun protection factor (SPF) number on the label of the sunscreen container. Select SPF 15 or higher to protect yourself adequately.
Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapply according to package directions. (Do not use sunscreen on children 6 months or younger – many pediatricians recommend you keep very young children out of the sun.)
Stay Cool Indoors
The most efficient way to beat the heat is to stay in an air-conditioned area. If you do not have an air conditioner or evaporative cooling unit, consider a visit to a shopping mall or public library for a few hours. Contact your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
Electric fans may be useful to increase comfort and to draw cool air into your home at night, but do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device during a heat wave. When the temperature is in the high 90s or higher, a fan will not prevent heat-related illness.
A cool shower or bath (or some time in the wading pool or under the sprinklers!) is a more effective way to cool off. Also, use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.
Schedule Outdoor Activities Carefully
If you must be out in the heat, try to plan your activities so that you are outdoors either before noon or in the evening. While outdoors, rest frequently in a shady area. Resting periodically will give your body's thermostat a chance to recover.
Monitor your Children
Those at greatest risk of heat-related illness include infants and children up to 4 years of age, as they are sensitive to the effects of high temperatures and rely on others to regulate their environments and provide adequate liquids.
Use Common Sense
Avoid hot foods and heavy meals – they add heat to your body. Do not leave infants, children or pets in a parked car.
Dress infants and young children in cool, loose clothing and shade their heads and faces with hats or an umbrella. Limit sun exposure during the mid-day hours and in places of potential severe exposure such as beaches.
Ensure that infants and children drink adequate amounts of liquids. Give your pet plenty of fresh water, and leave the water in a shady area.