Brutal heat waves are now on our doorstep, suffocating us with scorching heat and oppressive humidity. The forecast is for sweltering temperatures and the heat index, or how hot it really feels when relative humidity is factored with the actual air temperature, will be extremely high.
The greatest at-risk groups during these hot temperatures are the very young (children under 4 years of age), the elderly, and those who have underlying medical conditions. But we must all be vigilant: heat also threatens healthy young people, usually because they do not recognize the dangers of exercising and being active in hot, humid weather.
When heat and humidity combine, they slow evaporation of sweat from the body, which is the mechanism by which our bodies cool down. Therefore, outdoor exercise becomes dangerous even for those in good shape.
The CDC has provided a very comprehensive list of things you should do to protect yourself, your family, and your neighbors from heat-related illness:
- Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible
- Find an air-conditioned shelter
- Do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device
- Avoid direct sunlight
- Never leave infants or children in a parked car. Nor should pets be left in parked cars—they can suffer heat-related illness too
- Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing
- Take cool showers or baths
- Check on those most at-risk (the elderly, those with medical conditions, those who are ill, and those who live alone) twice a day
- Drink more water than usual
- Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink more fluids
- Drink two to four, 8-ounce glasses of water every hour while working or exercising outside. Some amount of sports drink (e.g., Gatorade®) consumption can be helpful to replace electrolytes, particularly salt, but most of your consumption should be from water.
- Avoid alcohol or liquids containing high amounts of sugar
- Remind others to drink enough water
- Check local news for extreme heat alerts and safety tips. The City of Boston has a website page with important phone numbers and a listing of pools and cooling centers, as does Mass 2-1-1 for areas outside Boston. You can also call 211 for additional information
- Sign up for free weather alerts to your phone or email
- Learn the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and what you should do. Problems can begin with muscle cramps, but can escalate to heat exhaustion. If you can’t cool off on your own after 30 minutes in a cool environment, or if you have shortness of breath, chest pain, or are vomiting, call your doctor’s office immediately
- Heat Stroke is a very dangerous condition that requires immediate medical attention. If someone you know is exhibiting any of the symptoms of heat stroke, you should immediately call 911
Chloeanne Georgia is an internal medicine physician at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston. She completed her internal medicine residency at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in 2008. She earned her medical degree at the University of Virginia and her undergraduate degree in Chemistry at Duke University. Her professional interests include Women's Health and Preventive Medicine. Dr Georgia blogs at www.artdoesnotapologize.blogspot.com and www.chloegeorgiamd.tumblr.com.