Tribune Print Share Text

Heat: An invisible danger

If there were warnings on seasons, summer would say, “DANGER: May get extremely hot!”

Created date

July 13th, 2009

Average summer temperatures are always warm, but excessive heat can become dangerous. Each year, more people die from excessive heat than from all natural disasters combined (tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and lightning). The temperature is rising According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the eight warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998. When temperatures reach ten degrees above the average high in a region for a prolonged period of time, an excessive heat event occurs. If this happens in your community, you may hear about it on the radio, in the newspaper, or on television. Excessive heat takes a toll on you. When it s hot over a span of several days, the effects accumulate especially in cities, explains Kathy Sykes, senior advisor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency s Aging Initiative. It may feel warmer in a big metropolitan city than in a small rural town. A major reason is that roads and buildings absorb the sun s energy and contribute to the formation of heat islands. While rural areas cool off at night, cities retain the heat, Sykes says. A heat island exists when open land is replaced by roads and buildings. The region becomes warmer than its surroundings and forms an island of higher temperatures. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a city with one million people or more can be 1.8 to 5.4 degrees warmer on average than its surroundings. In the evening, the difference can be as high as 22 degrees. But there are things you can do to prevent any heat-related illness this summer no matter how hot it gets. How to stay cool Ease into summer. Because your body needs time to adapt to the warm weather, you are at a heightened risk of heat-related health effects like heat stroke and heat exhaustion at the beginning of the summer. Be sure to watch for symptoms of a heat stroke, including skin that appears hot, dry, and red. Other warning signs are confusion, hallucinations, and aggression. Watch for heat exhaustion. A milder form of heat-related illness heat exhaustion tends to develop more gradually than heat stroke. If you treat it quickly, it can be easily reversed. If not, it can progress to heat stroke. Watch for symptoms of heat exhaustion, including weakness, dizziness, fainting, or vomiting. Stay in an air-conditioned place. When it s really hot outside, Sykes suggests three rules. Number one is to be in an air-conditioned place. If you don t have air-conditioning at home, go to a senior center, movie theater, library, or shopping center. Number two is to take a cold shower. Number three is to drink lots of fluids. Don t get dehydrated. Tom Morris, D.O., a physician at Monarch Landing, a community by Erickson in Naperville, Ill., says blood pressure medication, heart medication, diuretics, and antipsychotics could all affect your fluid needs. Talk to your doctor about your proper fluid balance because it is different for different people. Drinks with caffeine, alcohol, or high quantities of sugar may contribute to dehydration. Wear the right clothes. Because certain colors absorb heat and others reflect it, Sykes recommends you wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing. If you wear light colors, it can help you from becoming overheated just like a black tar street is hotter than a white cement sidewalk, she says. Use portable fans correctly. At home, if you are not using air-conditioning, you should know how to use electric fans safely. If it s in the 80s, you can use a portable fan next to an open window to bring the cooler air in from the outside. But when it gets in the high 90s, portable electric fans can increase the circulation of hot air and increase health risks, Sykes says. Don t get down when the temperatures start to rise. Keep these tips in mind so you can enjoy the summer weather. How to be sun smart Lessen your time outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when ultraviolet (UV) rays are the most intense. When you go outside, wear a hat and take water to drink. To protect your eyes, wear sunglasses that wrap around your head and block 100% of UV rays. Use at least SPF 15 on all areas of exposed skin all year long. To see UV levels in your area, check the SunWise website at