Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Health Care and Excessive Heat

Summer Time. Just the sound of it makes most Americans jump with joy. It's the season for outdoor fun, water parks, vacations, no school, and much more. Families run to the beach, to the mountains, and to many fantastic locations around the country to enjoy time together away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The summer season is a great time to get away from it all. However, it can also be a time when excessive heat can put a damper on your outside activities. When it's too hot, your body has a difficult time managing to stay cool.

Conditions of extreme heat are defined as summertime temperatures that are substantially hotter and/or more humid than average for location at that time of year. Humid or muggy conditions, which add to the discomfort of high temperatures, occur when a "dome" of high atmospheric pressure traps hazy, damp air near the ground, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Extremely dry and hot conditions can provoke dust storms and low visibility. Droughts occur when a long period passes without substantial rainfall. A heat wave combined with a drought is a very dangerous situation.

Heat kills by pushing the human body beyond its limits, according to FEMA. In extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. Most heat disorders occur because the victim has been overexposed to heat or has over-exercised for his or her age and physical condition. Older adults, young children, and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to succumb to extreme heat. Conditions that can induce heat-related illnesses include stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality. Consequently, people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than those living in rural areas. Also, asphalt and concrete store heat longer and gradually release heat at night, which can produce higher nighttime temperatures known as the "urban heat island effect."

According to the CDC, people suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn't enough. In such cases, a person's body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs. Several factors affect the body's ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions related to risk include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use.

Because heat-related deaths are preventable, people need to be aware of who is at greatest risk and what actions can be taken to prevent a heat-related illness or death. The elderly, the very young, and people with mental illness and chronic diseases are at highest risk. However, even young and healthy individuals can succumb to heat if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather. Air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death. If a home is not air-conditioned, people can reduce their risk for heat-related illness by spending time in public facilities that are air-conditioned, according to the CDC. Summertime activity, whether on the playing field or the construction site, must be balanced with measures that aid the body's cooling mechanisms and prevent heat-related illness.

A heat wave is an extended period of extreme heat, and is often accompanied by high humidity. These conditions can be dangerous and even life-threatening for humans who don't take the proper precautions.

Here are some tips to help reduce excessive heat health issues, according to Ready America:

Step 1: Get a Kit -- Get an Emergency Supply Kit which includes items like non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries.

Step 2: Make a Plan -- Prepare Your Family.

1.) Make a Family Emergency Plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.

2.) Plan places where your family will meet, both within and outside of your immediate neighborhood.

3.) It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members.

4.) You may also want to inquire about emergency plans at places where your family spends time: work, daycare and school. If no plans exist, consider volunteering to help create one.

5.) Be sure to consider the specific needs of your family members .

6.) Notify caregivers and babysitters about your plan.

7.) Make plans for your pets.

8.) Take a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) class from your local Citizen Corps chapter. Keep your training current.

Step 3: Be Informed -- Prepare Your Home.

1.) Install window air conditioners snugly; insulate if necessary.

2.) Check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation.

3.) Install temporary window reflectors (for use between windows and drapes), such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard, to reflect heat back outside.

4.) Weather-strip doors and sills to keep cool air in.

5.) Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, awnings or louvers. (Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat that enters a home by up to 80 percent.)

6.) Keep storm windows up all year.

Step 4: Listen to Local Officials -- Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.

A significant amount of info concerning how to deal with excessive heat can also be found online at this site: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp . The CDC has a lot of material about protecting yourself, your family and pets, and others from excessive heat. The important thing to remember is that excessive heat can be very dangerous, even life threatening. Many people die every year from heat related issues, especially during the hottest months of summer. If you experience any signs of heat related stress, call 911 immediately for help.

Until next time.

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