People suffer from extreme heat when their bodies aren't able to cool themselves adequately. The body normally cools itself by sweating but sometimes that isn't good enough. If a person's body temperature rises too quickly, there can be damage to the brain or other vital organs. Everyone has to pay more attention to the heat and help others, as young children and older people aren't always able to identify when they're too hot.
When your too hot, your body releases heat by sweating. During normal weather conditions, the sweat evaporates and you stay cool. When the humidity is high, evaporation slows down and you won't cool off as fast. A breeze also helps you cool down but extreme heat waves have less wind.
Extreme heat means temperatures are significantly hotter than usual. High humidity may accompany this heat, making it more uncomfortable. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says these conditions occur when “… a dome of high atmospheric pressure traps hazy, damp air near the ground. Extremely dry and hot conditions can provoke dust storms and low visibility. Droughts occur when a long period passes without substantial rainfall. A heat wave combined with a drought is a very dangerous situation.”
Protecting Yourself During Extreme Heat
Air conditioning offers the best protection against the heat and heat related illness. If your home doesn't have air conditioning, try to spend the hottest hours of the day in a public building that has air conditioning. You may have a cooling center nearby or consider visiting the library, a local mall or even McDonalds because you need to stay cool and comfortable. Other tips for dealing with the heat include:
- When you don't have air conditioning, find the coolest part of your home and spend the hottest part of the day there. This will typically be the lowest floor, on the side of the house with the lease direct sunlight.
- Drink lots of fluids regardless of your activity level. DO NOT wait until you're thirsty to drink and if you're exercising during extreme heat, you'll need at least 2 to 4 glasses of cool fluids every hour. Drinking liquids with alcohol, caffeine or large amounts of sugar aren't good as they can cause you to lose more body fluid. Very cold drinks may cause stomach cramps.
- Eat well-balanced, light meals on a regular basis. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
- Replace salt and minerals your body loses with heavy sweating. Sports beverages can help replace what you're losing but talk to your doctor if you're on a low salt diet.
- Take your clothes off … did I catch your attention? When home, wear as little clothing as possible to make it easier for your sweat to evaporate. When going outside, wear loose fitting clothing that is lightweight and light colored (reflects the sunlight).
- Protect yourself from the sun with a wide brim hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. SPF 15 or higher and look for products that say broad spectrum or UVA/UVB on their labels. Remember to put the sunscreen on 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapply as needed.
- Schedule outdoor activities with care to avoid the hottest time of the day. Try to stick to early morning and evening activities and locations that offer shade and a supply of water. Take a cool shower or bath to cool off afterwards.
- Use a buddy system during extreme heat. People doing strenuous activities outdoors should check on each other periodically. Seniors and other high risk individuals should have a friend or relative call at least twice a day to make sure they're okay.
- Never leave children or pets in the car as temperatures can build up very quickly, even when windows are open.
- Provide pets with adequate shade and water when you have to leave them outdoors. Be kind to birds and wild animals by keeping a supply of water filled for them.
- Seek medical attention when someone isn't feeling well. Extreme body temperatures can cause a number of heat related illnesses including heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat stroke. Don't take a chance!
Protect Your Home from Heat Damage
While the people in your life are your priority, paying attention to potential damage to your home and landscaping will save you time and money. As always, good preventative measures are less expensive than repairing damage.
- Water your lawn and shrubs before sunrise so the water gets absorbed into the ground. Watering during the day means evaporation will eat up most of the water which is wasteful.
- Water around your foundation 1 to 2 times a week (at night) if your sprinkler system isn't covering this ground. If parts of your landscaping have sprinklers, you may only need to add a soaker hose about 18 inches away from the house, to protect your entire foundation. By keeping the soil moist you will avoid damage to the foundation and subsequent repairs.
- Make sure your attic has adequate ventilation or you'll be paying higher air conditioning bills. Soffit vents can get clogged and prevent intake air from getting into your attic, reducing the effectiveness of roof vents.
- Have your car's air conditioning serviced. You need the correct level of Freon to have the air conditioning system operate optimally.
- Keep tires inflated properly and leave windows open a crack as the heat inside can build up much higher than outside, causing windows to crack.
- Check what's stored in your car and remove aerosol cans and any thing that might melt.