Extreme heat is becoming more common across the United States this summer as temperatures regularly soar into the triple digits. In many cases temperatures are rising even as high as 120 degrees, sometimes lasting for as long as a week.
Indeed, this year is expected to be among the 10 hottest years ever recorded. At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration experts believe it will prove to be among the top five.
A cause of the extreme heat, experts say, is climate change. Added to that is the presence this year of El Niño in the Pacific Ocean, a weather pattern that heats up the weather across the United States.
Many people suffer heat illness when the weather is really hot.
The most serious illness is heat stroke which is a result of your body temperature rising to 104 degrees or higher. Heat stroke usually needs emergency treatment.
Symptoms might include a change in your mental behavior, high body temperature, skin that is either dry and hot or moist to the touch, headache, racing heart rate, nausea, and rapid breathing.
In those cases move the person indoors or to a shady place, remove unnecessary clothing, and cool the person down with whatever means are available.
Other illnesses are:
• Heat cramps, which are painful, involuntary muscle spasms. They most often occur during physical activity in high temperatures.
• Heat exhaustion which includes a fast, weak pulse, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, and dizziness.
• Sunburn so bad that it causes red, painful, warm skin, and blisters on the face.
• Heat rash
Can Be Fatal
Heat-related deaths, too, are taking place more often. For example, a 14-year-old hiker died at Big Bend National Park in Texas as temperatures reached 119 degrees Fahrenheit.
In Dallas a postal worker collapsed and died while he was on his regular route during a time of extreme heat.
Tips to Help You Cope
You can take steps to protect yourself from heat-related illnesses and even death.
Here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Arkansas Department of Health to help you cope with the extreme heat:
• Wear clothing that is light-colored, lightweight, and loose-fitting.
Heavy clothing makes you feel hotter and raises your body temperature, thereby making the heat even worse. In the winter cold you wear heavy clothing in order to warm up your body; you want to do the opposite when it is extremely hot in order to keep your body cool.
• Stay in a place that is air-conditioned during those hours of the day that are hottest.
If your home is not equipped with air-conditioning consider going to a public place, such as a senior center, library, or mall.
Cooling centers are available in some cities in times of extreme heat. Some churches might also open their doors in order to enable people to be cool.
• Try limiting the time that you spend outdoors to those times when it is coolest, such as the evening and morning hours. Should you need to be out walking in the heat of the day, rest often in shady places so that the times you are in the hot sun are shorter than would normally be the case.
Remember that the longer you are in the sun the more the heat builds up and the more dangerous it becomes to your body.
• Reduce exercising in the heat. You should stop all activity if the exertion causes your heart to beat faster or leaves you gasping for breath.
• If you need to go outdoors when it is extremely hot, make sure you wear sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat that protects the back of your neck as well as your head and face, and cover all exposed areas with a sunscreen that carries an SPF of 15 or greater.
• Make sure you drink water often. Avoid waiting to drink until you are thirsty. Stay away from drinks that are sugary and avoid alcohol. They can cause you to lose more bodily fluid.
Also make sure that your pets have plenty of fresh water to drink.
• Should you be 65 or older ask a relative or a friend to check on you at least twice a day. Many older people who do not have air-conditioning—or fail to turn it on—can suffer and even die from severe heat even when they are indoors.
If you are under 65, check whether you know of older people on whom you can check during the day.