According to the Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gases are trapping more heat in the Earth's atmosphere, which is causing average temperatures to rise all over the world. While temperatures in the Midwest this summer may not set any records, high temperatures can still cause major problems.
Each National Weather Service Forecast Office issues heat related warnings as conditions warrant. There are 3 levels of warning:
Excessive Heat Outlooks: are issued when the potential exists for an excessive heat event in the next 3-7 days. An Outlook provides information to those who need considerable lead time to prepare for the event, such as public utility staff, emergency managers and public health officials.
Excessive Heat Watches: are issued when conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event in the next 24 to 72 hours. A Watch is used when the risk of a heat wave has increased but its occurrence and timing is still uncertain. A Watch provides enough lead time so that those who need to prepare can do so, such as cities officials who have excessive heat event mitigation plans.
Excessive Heat Warning/Advisories are issued when an excessive heat event is expected in the next 36 hours. These warnings and advisories are issued when an excessive heat event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurring. The warning is used for conditions posing a threat to life. An advisory is for less serious conditions that cause significant discomfort or inconvenience and, if caution is not taken, could lead to a threat to life.
Even short periods of high temperatures can cause serious health problems. During hot weather health emergencies, keep informed by listening to local weather and news channels or contact local health departments for health and safety updates. Doing too much on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses.
Know the symptoms of heat disorders and overexposure to the sun, and be ready to give first aid treatment.
Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. The body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F, orally)
- Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the victim. Get the victim to a shady area and cool them rapidly using whatever methods are available. Do not give them fluids to drink and get medical assistance as soon as possible.
Sometimes a victim's muscles will begin to twitch uncontrollably as a result of heat stroke. If this happens, keep the victim from injuring himself, but do not place any object in the mouth and do not give fluids. If there is vomiting, make sure the airway remains open by turning the victim on his or her side.
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. It is the body's response to an excessive loss of the water and salt contained in sweat. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.
Warning signs of heat exhaustion include the following:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
The skin may be cool and moist. The victim's pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. Seek medical attention immediately if the victim's symptoms are severe or if the victim has heart problems or high blood pressure
Otherwise, help the victim to cool off, and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than 1 hour.
Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body's salt and moisture. The low salt level in the muscles may be the cause of heat cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.
Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms—usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs—that may occur in association with strenuous activity. If you have heart problems or are on a low-sodium diet, get medical attention for heat cramps.
If medical attention is not necessary stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool place,drink clear juice or a sports beverage. Seek medical attention for heat cramps if they do not subside in 1 hour.
Sunburn should be avoided because it damages the skin. Although the discomfort is usually minor and healing often occurs in about a week, a more severe sunburn may require medical attention.
Symptoms of sunburn are well known: the skin becomes red, painful, and abnormally warm after sun exposure.
Consult a doctor if the sunburn affects an infant younger than 1 year of age or if the victim experiences fever, fluid-filled blisters or severe pain.
Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. It can occur at any age but is most common in young children.
Heat rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. It is more likely to occur on the neck and upper chest, in the groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases.
The best treatment for heat rash is to provide a cooler, less humid environment. Keep the affected area dry. Dusting powder may be used to increase comfort. Treating heat rash is simple and usually does not require medical assistance. Other heat-related problems can be much more severe.
Sharon W. Bennett