Heatwave: how to stay safe?
Published Aug 18, 2022 • By Claudia Lima
A heatwave is a period of extremely high temperatures that occurs in summer and lasts for several days and nights. It can be detected by meteorological services between 5 and 7 days in advance.
Exposure to high temperatures for a prolonged period of time without allowing the body to recover can lead to serious health problems.
So what are the risks associated with high temperatures? Who is most at risk? How can you stay safe and keep others safe?
All the answers are in our article!
What is a heatwave?
A heatwave is a generic term for a period of time during which extremely high temperatures may cause health problems.
A heatwave must meet two parameters in order to be described as such: the duration of the episode (a minimum of 3 consecutive days) and the intensity of the heat.
The summer of 2022 has been extremely hot so far, both in the United States and in Europe. In the United States, the heatwaves began in May, and since then several record temperatures have been recorded: 95°F in Baltimore in May, 108°F in North Platte, Nebraska, 114°F in Phoenix and 123°F in Death Valley in June, 95°F in Washington DC in July, which triggered a heat emergency, etc. In July, 100 million people were put on heat alerts. A lot of people have died due to heat-related accidents.
High temperatures continue to threaten certain areas, such as the South, West and Midwest. In order to prepare and warn the population, National Weather Service has been using the heat index, which allows to predict how hot it really is outside, taking into account humidity along with temperature. There are 4 different levels of alert: caution, extreme caution, danger and extreme danger.
What are the health risks related to extremely high temperatures?
Exposing a person to high temperatures for a prolonged period of time, without allowing the body to recover, can lead to serious health problems.
High temperatures can be dangerous for the body when it has not yet become accustomed to the heat, when the heat is humid and prevents the body from sweating, and when air pollution is present.
Our body will try to adapt to the temperature, activating thermal regulation mechanisms such as sweating, accelerated breathing and dilation of blood vessels to cool the blood down.
Symptoms associated with high heat include:
- Muscle cramps,
- Muscle weakness,
- Symptoms aggravation, if a chronic condition is present.
Signs of dehydration include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, dizziness, dry mouth and nose and reduced urine output in adults.
There is also a risk of hyponatremia, a decrease in the concentration of salt in the blood which can sometimes be the result of an excess of water intake over sodium or an excess of salt loss over water elimination. This is especially true for the elderly, as sweating is often impaired or absent starting from a certain age, but also for people with chronic conditions.
In the event of a heat wave, the most serious risk is a heatstroke, which may lead to death. This happens when the body's temperature regulation mechanism becomes insufficient and the temperature rises dangerously, provoking hyperthermia.
If you or someone else has a heatstroke, you should immediately call 911, especially if the symptoms include:
- fast breathing or shortness of breath
- a fit (seizure)
- loss of consciousness
- not responsive
- very high temperature
- fast heartbeat.
While waiting for the emergency services to arrive, here is what you can do to help the person with a heatstroke:
Source : Firstaidforfree
What populations are most at risk in high temperatures?
People who are most at risk are:
- People over 65 years old: the heat is much less noticeable, the feeling of thirst is impaired, and they sweat less,
- Children under 4 years old: they lose more water than adults, there is a risk of dehydration,
- Pregnant women: hydration is essential during pregnancy,
- People suffering with chronic conditions (Parkinson's disease, cardiovascular disease, asthma, obesity, mental disorders) and those with disabilities,
- People on medication such as aspirin, diuretics, neuroleptics (risperidone, olanzapine) and antimigraine drugs.
Other groups of people may also be considered at risk, either because of their living conditions, if they live in highly urbanized areas and/or in poorly insulated housing, or because of their activities (this concerns outdoor workers and athletes).
People in difficult situations, homeless or isolated people, are also exposed to health risks related to high temperatures.
Staying safe in hot weather
There are simple things you can do to prevent serious health problems, such as dehydration or heat stroke.
In the event of a heatwave, it is recommended to drink plenty of water and stay cool, avoid alcohol consumption, eat enough food, close shutters and windows during the day, air the rooms at night and take warm (but not cold) showers. It is also important to keep in touch with your loved ones, especially those who are most at risk.
It is advisable to anticipate the first signs of heat suffering, even if they seem insignificant. You should therefore be prepared and well-informed before the period of high temperatures begins.
Before a heatwave
- If you are a person at risk, make yourself known to your local healthcare services so that volunteers can provide assistance if needed
- If you know people at risk, register them with these services,
- Locate air-conditioned places to be when you need to cool down,
- Put together a first-aid kit to be prepared for a heatwave (water spray, fan, thermometer),
- Learn how to recognize the signs of heat stroke.
During a heatwave
- Protect yourself from the sun
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, avoid sugary drinks and alcohol,
- Wear light, loose-fitting, bright clothing,
- Use fans and water sprays. Simultaneous use is most effective,
- Take regular warm showers,
- Spend several hours a day in a cool place,
- Rest during the hottest hours,
- Eat sufficiently and healthy (water-rich fruit and vegetables),
- Limit physical effort,
- Do not isolate yourself, talk to your family and neighbors,
- Protect your home from the heat,
- Act quickly in case of heat stroke symptoms
Source : crisisequipped.com