As summer weather heats up, heat-related illnesses are on the rise, but here’s how experts can help protect you from dehydration, heatstroke and heat exhaustion.
Heat-related deaths kill more people than any other natural disaster and more than hurricanes and tornadoes combined between 1979 and 2018, according to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Multiple incidents of heat-related illness (HRI) occurred across the country on Friday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Region Six (composed of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico) tops the list at a rate of 1,013 HRI per 100,000.
According to the World Health Organization, the number of people who were exposed to heat waves between 2000 and 2016 increased by around 250 million worldwide, with a further 175,000 people in 2015 alone.
The WHO also reports that while all population groups are affected by extreme heat, the elderly, infants and children, pregnant women, athletes, the poor, and outdoor and manual workers are most at risk.
According to a study published in Lancet, The number of deaths caused by high temperatures increased by 74% between 1980 and 2016, suggesting that human-caused climate change is responsible for the rise in temperature and deaths through the release of greenhouse gases.
The study also points out that extremely high temperatures are linked to 17 different causes of death, with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases being responsible for the majority of deaths.
67,512. This is the average number of heat-related emergency room visits reported each year, according to the CDC. Of these, 9,235 Americans are hospitalized each year from extreme heat, and an average of 702 heat-related deaths are reported annually.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, heat stroke is “the most serious form of heat illness.” It occurs when the body can no longer cool itself because sweating is no longer working. Body temperature rises rapidly, to 106 degrees Fahrenheit within 10 to 15 minutes. This can result in permanent disability or death. The body cools itself by sweating, urinating and breathing at normal temperatures, but when humidity rises above 75%, sweating stops working, according to a study published in American family doctor. Symptoms of heat stroke include confusion, dizziness, nausea, headache, fever over 45 degrees Fahrenheit, loss of consciousness, fainting, and hot, red, dry, or clammy skin. To help prevent heat stroke, the Mayo Clinic recommends staying hydrated, protecting yourself from sunburn, wearing loose, light clothing, not doing strenuous work on extremely hot days, and not leaving anyone in a parked car. Those at higher risk include those over the age of 65, athletes who play sports outdoors, those exposed to sudden exposure to high temperatures, those without air conditioning, those with certain medical conditions such as heart or lung disease, and those taking certain medications Diuretics, antidepressants and beta blockers.
Staying hydrated is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from intense heat. According to the CDC, staying hydrated keeps the body at a normal temperature, protects the spinal cord and other tissues, lubricates and cushions joints, and eliminates waste through urination, sweating, and bowel movements. It is recommended to drink enough fluids before, during and after the heat to ensure the body is regulated. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommend that the average adult water intake should be between six and eight glasses of water daily. However, according to a study published in , 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated StatPearl. Several factors can lead to dehydration, including diarrhea, sweating during excessively hot weather or exercise, fever, and vomiting. Although mild and moderate dehydration can be corrected by increasing water intake, severe dehydration requires medical attention. Symptoms of dehydration include thirst, dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth, less urination, confusion, muscle spasms, dark yellow or light brown urine, dry tongue or skin, fainting, lightheadedness, and headaches, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Because the symptoms can resemble those of other health conditions, it’s best to have a doctor diagnose it. Because severe dehydration is a medical emergency, treatment with intravenous fluids must be immediate. Left untreated, severe dehydration can lead to kidney failure, brain damage, seizures, coma, and even death.
According to the CDC, heat exhaustion is “the body’s response to excessive water and salt loss” and typically occurs through excessive sweating. This usually happens when the body is exposed to high temperatures combined with high humidity, or when strenuous activity (like exercising or running) is required. Symptoms include rapid, shallow breathing, fever over 45 degrees Celsius, tiredness or weakness, dizziness, blurred vision, swelling in the feet, hands, or ankles, a weak, fast heartbeat, low blood pressure when standing, nausea or vomiting, and associated excessive Sweating with cold, clammy skin. To prevent heat exhaustion, people should wear sunscreen, cool off indoors, exercise indoors or early in the morning, stay hydrated, and dress appropriately for the heat.
According to the CDC, heat-related illnesses are the leading cause of death and disability among high school athletes in the United States.