Katie Moser, FEI Network Operations Specialist

As we are in the midst of summer in the U.S., it is important to understand the risk factors of extreme heat and the preventative measures we can take to remain healthy and safe.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, extreme heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths. About 600 Americans parish each year during heat waves across the country. In fact, summer temperatures, in Fahrenheit, can reach up to the 120s and 130s in some states, and 2017 was recently declared one of the warmest non-El Niño years
on record

Heat stress is defined as a heat-related illness caused by the body’s inability to cool down properly. We normally cool ourselves by sweating, but, in extreme conditions, your body’s natural cooling process just isn’t enough. Without proper care, life-threatening dehydration can occur within mere hours.

Heat stress can cause damage to the brain and vital organs. Taking proper precautions is important to remain cool when temperatures rise. First, let’s understand the risk factors. High humidity causes the body’s natural cooling process to work less effectively. Sweat won’t evaporate as quickly, which keeps your body from cooling down as fast as needed.

There are also personal factors that contribute to one’s susceptibility to heat stress. Those who are at the highest risk are people age 65 and over, children younger than two, individuals with chronic disease or mental illness, and those who work outside. If you fall into one of these groups, or know a heat wave is on the way, pay close attention to the signs of heat stress and take preventative measures so you can stay safe.

The good news is that heat stress is completely preventable. All of us can take the following actions to prevent illness – or even death – related to the threat of heat stress:

  • Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible.
  • Do not rely on fans as your primary cooling method.
  • Drink more water than usual. Do not wait until you are thirsty to start hydrating.
  • Use the buddy system with friends or neighbors to check in, especially for those who are at a higher risk.
  • Don’t use the stove or oven to cook.
  • Limit outdoor activity. If you must be outside, avoid the hottest parts of the day.
  • Wear loose, light-weight, light-colored clothing.
  • Never leave children or pets in cars.
  • Check the local news for health and safety warnings from local authorities.

Whether you work regularly in the heat or are simply taking a lunchtime walk outside, extremely hot weather can make you sick and even kill you. Following these recommendations will help you stay cool when the mercury rises.