We dream about summer heat all winter long and can’t wait for the sunshine to arrive. But we forget that summer heat waves can be potentially dangerous to our health. A recent intense heat wave with humidex values of between 40 to 45 degrees in Montreal saw a death toll of 54 that succumbed to hyperthermia and other heat related health issues.
In 2003, during a major European heat wave, 14,802 people died of hyperthermia in France alone. Most were elderly people living alone in apartment buildings without air conditioning.
How does heat kill and who is at greatest risk?
When core body temperature rises too high, everything breaks down: The gut leaks toxins into the body, cells begin to die, and a devastating inflammatory response can occur.
Generally speaking, the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions have more difficulty regulating their body temperatures and are at greatest risk. However, hyperthermia can strike at any age. Part of the insidiousness of heat-related deaths is how quickly they can happen. During a heat wave in Phoenix a fit 28-year-old was biking with two doctors. Her pulse stopped and despite immediate resuscitation efforts, she could not be saved.
Heat stroke or heat exhaustion?
The first phase of hyperthermia is heat exhaustion, a condition marked by heavy sweat, nausea, vomiting and even fainting. The pulse races, and the skin goes clammy. Muscle cramping can be an early sign of heat exhaustion.
If not treated heat exhaustion can quickly progress to heat stroke and can become deadly. When you spend a long time in extreme heat, the body stops trying to maintain its core internal temperature. So during traditional heat stroke you may actually stop sweating. If you think someone may be suffering from heat stroke look for these signs: the person develops a change in mental status, becomes confused, lethargic, and may have a seizure, the skin stops sweating, and the body temperature may exceed 106 F (41 C). This is a life-threatening condition and emergency medical attention is needed immediately.
How to beat the heat
The best way to combat heat exhaustion and heat stroke is prevention. It is important to look after family and loved ones during heat waves. Keep an eye on children, the elderly and people with long-term health conditions (like diabetes or heart problems) because they’re more at risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. When the temperatures rise, the elderly or those less fortunate may not have air conditioning or the ability to cool their homes. Ensure that they are drinking plenty of water even if they don’t feel thirsty.
The most important thing you can do to prevent heat exhaustion is drink at least two liters (about a half-gallon) of water per day if you are mostly indoors and one to two additional liters for every hour of outdoor time. Drink before you feel thirsty, and avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Cities often set up cooling centers when the heat index rises, and there is an increased risk of heat-related illness. If you’re with someone who is displaying heat stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately. Then move the person to a cool place. Try to cool him down by applying a cool compress to his forehead or even pouring cool water over his body. Then wait until medical professionals take over. Don’t hesitate to call for help, as heat stroke is a serious medical emergency. Immediate treatment is vital.
Hydrating with water can be essential to preventing heat stroke. That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re drinking high quality water. Check out Best Water’s full range of water purification systems to ensure the quality of your drinking water. With cleaner and clearer water you can beat the heat and prevent heat stroke from occurring all summer long. www.waterionizer.org