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The Danger of Exposure to Excessive Heat
Posted: 7/7/2015 2:49 PM by
It may come as a surprise to some that heat is the top weather-related killer in the United States. Heat-related fatalities were first officially tallied in 1986, and since then an average of 137 people each year have lost their lives as a result of excessive heat. Heat waves develop over a period of days, and therefore don’t evoke the same sense of urgency as, for example, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Deaths from excessive heat can often be prevented.
We’ve all heard stories about children pulled from freezing water who have recovered with little or no residual damages. Children left in hot cars usually die very quickly, as human physiology is not well equipped to manage excessive heat.
Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to heat exhaustion and eventually progress to heatstroke. Vulnerable people can begin to suffer problems when the temperature rises into the eighties. By the time the thermometer tops 100 degrees, everyone is potentially at risk.
Heat exhaustion refers to overheating of the body due to loss of water or salt depletion from excessive sweating. People who suffer from heat exhaustion have often been taking part in strenuous physical exercise outside in hot weather. Sunburn can significantly retard the skin's ability to shed excess heat.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include thirst, headache, pallor, dizziness and possibly nausea or vomiting. In severe cases, the heart rate increases and the sufferer may feel disoriented. If fluids and heat relief are provided, the body will compensate and eventually the person will recover. If heat exposure continues, Heatstroke or sunstroke will follow. This occurs when the body's thermo-regulatory system stops working and body temperature rises to approximately 107 degrees F. This is the danger zone, and requires immediate heat relief and medical intervention.
The elderly and the very young are particularly vulnerable to the effects of high temperatures. Obese people and those with medical conditions such as heart disease, respiratory conditions and diabetes are also potentially at risk. The effects of heat are cumulative, that is, the longer a body is exposed to high temperatures, the more severe the impact on health.
In a heatwave the body has to spend much of its energy trying to keep the core temperature down and this increases the stress on everything else. Once the body’s ability to thermo-regulate is lost, death soon follows.
Anyone can be at risk if they do not take sensible steps to cool off.
There are a number of things that everybody can do to avoid illness when temperatures soar. Increase your intake of non-alcoholic, non-carbonated, caffeine free beverages such as water and fruit juice, wear clothing that is light in color and loose fitting ,avoid the outdoors during extreme heat, stay out of the sun, eliminate strenuous activity, take frequent cool baths or showers and allow yourself to take things at a slower pace.
Remember to provide heat relief measures for pets, as they can suffer heatstroke, too. And never, ever leave a child or a pet unattended in a closed vehicle, even for one minute. In 80 degree weather, the temperature inside a closed vehicle can climb to 100 degrees in 10 minutes, to 130 degrees in 20 minutes, even with the windows open a few inches. Every year children and pets die from being left, “just for a minute”. Don’t let this tragedy happen to you. Should you see a child or animal locked in a closed vehicle, please call 911 right away.
Heat is the top weather related killer in America and should not be underestimated. Many heat related fatalities are preventable with vigilance and sensible interventions.
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