Heat Waves: Know the Dangers and What to Do
It’s summer-and it’s hot outside. Most of the time the heat is just uncomfortable or annoying. You may resent cooking because it heats up the house, or maybe you hate getting into your blazing hot car.
However, sometimes the heat is more than irritating. During a heat wave, the temperatures can be dangerous, if not deadly. You’ll need to take steps to beat the heat and stay safe-including keeping your air conditioning running. Read on to learn what to do.
The Dangers of Heat Waves
Heat waves are times when the temperature rises to extremely high levels compared to the area’s normal temperatures, especially when the weather is also very humid. A heat wave has to last at least two days in order to be classified as such.
Generally, people are more scared of weather events like hurricanes or tornadoes, but heat waves actually tend to be more deadly. About 6,200 Americans have to go to the hospital because of heat-related problems each summer, and it’s estimated that heat waves have killed more people than all other weather events put together, including hurricanes, floods, lightning, and tornadoes.
It doesn’t seem like hot temperatures should be so dangerous. It’s true that those who are most affected tend to already be vulnerable, such as children, the elderly, the chronically ill, and the severely overweight. However, most heat-related illnesses or deaths are still preventable. The trouble is that most people don’t know that they need to take action to stay safe.
The Effects of Heat Waves
Normally, human bodies deal with heat efficiently. Our most effective mechanism to get rid of excess heat is sweat-when the liquid evaporates off of our skin, it takes heat along with it. However, when the temperatures are very high for a long period of time, especially when they stay high at night, our bodies can’t cool us down.
We lose ground against heat even faster when it’s humid outside. If the air is already saturated with water, our sweat won’t evaporate as quickly, if it evaporates at all. We lose our biggest defense against the heat, which means that our internal temperature may rise to dangerous levels. A high body temperature affects how our organs function-especially the brain.
Excessive heat can affect the body in several ways, some of which are very severe. The following problems are not very dangerous, but if left untreated, they can lead to more dangerous ones:
- Heat edema. When it gets hot, you may start retaining water, which means that your extremities (such as your hands and feet) may swell with the extra fluid.
- Heat rash. If your sweat ducts get blocked, they can rupture, causing an itchy rash. Heat rashes most commonly occur under tight clothing.
- Heat cramps. These are similar to exercise cramps-if you’re working out in the heat and you don’t drink enough water or replace your electrolytes, your muscles may painfully spasm.
While these issues are uncomfortable and inconvenient, they are not life threatening. However, the following are:
- Heat exhaustion. Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, headaches, vomiting, dizziness, and malaise. If you’re outside in the heat or don’t have sufficient air conditioning in your home, you may get dehydrated and start experiencing these symptoms. Take them seriously, or they might get worse.
- Heat stroke. Also called hyperthermia, heat stroke is a deadly condition that often follows untreated heat exhaustion. If you experience heat stroke, your body temperature rises to 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. You may notice many of the same symptoms as heat exhaustion, but you could also have seizures, faint, get confused, breathe too rapidly, or have a rapid heartbeat.
With any of these heat-related illnesses, you have to take action. If your illness is not severe, just getting out of the heat, resting, and drinking lots of water with electrolytes (like sports drinks) should be enough. However, if you suspect you or someone else has heat stroke, go to a hospital immediately.
Preventing Heat Injuries
Preventing heat-related illness or injury is simple: stay out of the heat if you can and drink lots of water. If you have to be outside, make sure to take breaks by going inside or resting in the shade to give your body a chance to cool off. Don’t participate in strenuous activity during the hottest parts of the day, and never leave people or pets in a hot car.
Unfortunately, many people don’t think of heat as a danger, so they don’t take these basic steps. Other people lack the resources they need to stay safe. If you have family or friends that are at risk for heat injuries or that don’t have air conditioning, make sure to check on them. If they start showing low-level symptoms like heat rash, consider taking them to your air conditioned home until the heat wave ends.
Keeping safe during a heat wave is simple if you make sure to prepare. One of the best things you can do is to keep your air conditioning in good shape-that way, you can be healthy and comfortable inside your home. Contact Cape Fear Air Conditioning & Heating to service or repair your unit.