In Iowa, it gets hot in the summertime. Sometimes, very hot. 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. Heat kills by pushing the human body beyond its limits. In extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States.
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.
The best defense against heat-related illnesses is prevention. You can be prepared by knowing the symptoms of heat disorders and overexposure to the sun, and being ready to give first aid treatment.
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Keep it cool inside
- Install window air conditioners snugly.
- Insulate spaces around air conditioners for a tighter fit.
- Use a circulating or box fan to spread the cool air.
- Install temporary reflectors, such as aluminum foil covered cardboard, to reflect any heat back outside.
- Install weather-stripping on doors and windowsills.
- Consider keeping storm windows up all year. Storm windows can keep the heat out of a house in the summer the same way they keep the cold out in the winter.
- Check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation.
Take care of your body
- Eat well-balanced, light meals.
- Drink plenty of water regularly. Persons who have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or liver disease; are on fluid-restrictive diets; or have a problem with fluid retention should consult a doctor before increasing liquid intake.
- Limit intake of alcoholic beverages. Although beer and alcoholic beverages appear to satisfy thirst, they actually cause further body dehydration.
- Take salt tablets only if specified by your physician. Persons on salt-restrictive diets should check with a physician before increasing salt intake.
- Protect windows. Hang shades, draperies, awnings, or louvers on windows that receive morning or afternoon sun. Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat entering the house by as much as 80 percent.
- Conserve electricity. During periods of extreme heat, people tend to use a lot more power for air conditioning which can lead to a power shortage or outage.
- Stay indoors as much as possible. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine. Remember that electric fans do not cool, they just blow hot air around.
- Vacuum air conditioner filters weekly during periods of high use.
- Allow your body to get acclimated to hot temperatures for the first 2 or 3 days of a heat wave.
- Avoid too much sunshine. Sunburn slows the skin's ability to cool itself. Use a sunscreen lotion with a high SPF (sun protection factor) rating.
- Avoid extreme temperature changes. A cool shower immediately after coming in from hot temperatures can result in hypothermia, particularly for elderly and very young people.
- Slow down. Reduce, eliminate, or reschedule strenuous activities. High-risk individuals should stay in cool places. Get plenty of rest to allow your natural "cooling system" to work.
- Dress in loose-fitting clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Lightweight, light-colored clothing that reflects heat and sunlight and helps maintain normal body temperature.
- Protect face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
During a drought
- Lower water use. Watering the lawn and washing the car waste water. Whenever possible, re-use water.
- Place a brick or other large, solid object in the flush tank of the toilet to reduce the water used to flush.
Each year, several children die from hyperthermia. According to the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University, at least 30 children in the U.S. died of hyperthermia in 2014, after being left in parked vehicles. And since 1998, 640 children have died from hyperthermia from being left in parked cars. These incidents can occur on days with relatively mild (i.e., about 70 degrees Fahrenheit) outdoor temperatures; vehicles can reach life-threatening temperatures very rapidly.
Hyperthermia is an acute condition that occurs when the body absorbs more heat than it can dissipate. Hyperthermia can occur even on a mild day. Studies have shown that the temperature inside a parked vehicle can rapidly rise to a dangerous level for children, adults and pets. Leaving the windows slightly open does not significantly decrease the heating rate. The effects can be more severe on children because their bodies warm at a faster rate than adults.
Summer Vehicle Safety Tips
- Make sure your child's safety seat and safety belt buckles aren't too hot before securing your child in a safety restraint system, especially when your car has been parked in the heat.
- Never leave your child unattended in a vehicle, even with the windows down.
- Teach children not to play in, on or around cars.
- Always lock car doors and trunks - even at home - and keep keys out of children's reach.
- Always make sure all children have left the car when you reach your destination. Don't ever leave sleeping infants in the car!
Beat the heat: Check the backseat!
Learn the symptoms of heat disorders, and know how to give first aid.
- Symptoms: Characterized by redness of the skin and pain. In severe cases, swelling of skin, blisters, fever and headaches will occur.
- First Aid: Use ointments for mild cases, if blisters appear and do not break. If breaking occurs, apply a dry, sterile dressing. Serious, extensive cases should be seen by physician.
- Symptoms: Characterized by painful spasms usually in the muscles of legs and abdomen. The affected person(s) will be sweating heavily.
- First Aid: Apply firm pressure on cramping muscles or gentle massage to relieve spasm. Give the victim sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water.
- Symptoms: Affected persons will experience heavy sweating, weakness, and cold, pale and clammy skin. His/her pulse may be thready. It is possible that the victim will have a normal temperature. Fainting and vomiting often occurs.
- First Aid: Get the victim out of sun. Once inside, the person should lay down and loosen clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. Fan or move victim to an air-conditioned room. Offer him/her sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water. If vomiting continues, seek immediate medical attention.
Heat Stroke (Sunstroke)
- Symptoms: Characterized by a high body temperature (106° F or higher). The victim's skin will be hot and dry, and have a rapid and strong pulse. He/she may suffer possible unconsciousness.
- First Aid: HEAT STROKE IS A SEVERE MEDICAL EMERGENCY. SUMMON EMERGENCY MEDICAL ASSISTANCE OR GET THE VICTIM TO A HOSPITAL IMMEDIATELY. DELAY CAN BE FATAL. White waiting for emergency assistance, move the victim to a cooler environment. Reduce body temperature with cold bath or sponging. Exercise extreme caution. Remove the affected person's clothing. Use fans and air conditioners. If the person's temperature rises again, repeat the process. Do not give the victim fluids. Persons on salt restrictive diets should consult a physician before increasing their salt intake.
Helpful heat links
- National Weather Service website
- Safe Kids website - Preventing Heatstroke
- Link to download free iPhone App, "Baby Reminder"
- Humane Society of the U.S. - heat safety for your pet