In Maine, we typically experience our hottest, most humid weather in July and August, and although we do not have to endure the blazing heat that is felt west of us, temperatures do occasionally reach in excess of 90 degrees. It is precisely because we do not experience these temperatures on a regular basis that we need to remind ourselves of the importance of staying cool.
Unfortunately the risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke increase with age. Other factors include obesity, mental illness, poor circulation, prescription drug and alcohol use, and sunburn. Humidity, a weather condition we are well acquainted with in Maine, prevents sweat from evaporating, inhibiting the body’s natural ability to cool itself.
Many people do not realize that excessive heat can be deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive heat claims more lives each year in the United States than any other weather related event. However, heat related illness and death is preventable. When things heat up, there are some basic things you can do to stay safe.
- Stay where air-conditioning is available; if not at home, a public library, restaurant, or a grocery store.
- Close your windows early in the morning and keep the curtains closed on the sunny side of the house. This will help keep the heat out during the day. At night, reopen your windows and use an outward facing fan to draw cool air in.
- Plan your activities for the morning, wear light weight and light colored clothing and sunscreen, and stay out of direct sunlight.
- Take a cool shower.
- Never leave a person or pet in a parked car. Temperatures in an automobile can reach dangerously high levels in just ten minutes.
- Drink lots of water, even if you are not thirsty. If you are working outside, drink two to four cups of water every hour.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages.
- If you are on a fluid-restricted diet, consult your doctor about how much fluid you should drink.
- Save strenuous activities for cooler weather.
Check on elderly parents, friends and neighbors twice a day. If you do not have family close by, arrange to check in with a friend.
Know the signs
When heat overwhelms the body’s natural ability to cool itself, the body’s temperature can rise above 106 degrees in as little as 10-15 minutes. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke so that you can seek help immediately. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fast but weak heart rate
- Fast and shallow breathing
- Body temperature of 103 degrees or higher
- Red hot, dry skin
- Rapid, strong pulse
If someone you know experiences any or all of the above symptoms, get them out of the sun, cool them rapidly with a cool shower and seek medical attention as soon as possible. For more information, visit the CDC online.