About 50 million people are under heat alert on Tuesday.

High temperatures are not only uncomfortable, they are bad for your health and can even be fatal. Of all natural disasters, oppressive heat is the Killer #1, studies show, killing more people than hurricanes and tornadoes combined. In Maricopa County, Arizonaalone, there have been at least 111 confirmed heat-related deaths this season.

“What’s most problematic about the heat is that it’s a sneaky climate problem because it kills a lot of people, but it’s not as awesome as a hurricane or something. It happens all the time, so it’s sneaky,” environmental epidemiologist Tarik Benmarhnia said. from the University of California at San Diego.

There has been a 74% increase in heat-related deaths since 1980, according to a 2021 study. With the course climate crisishigh temperatures are expected to worsen and heat waves will last longer, affecting parts of the country that are not used to them.
Most heat-related deaths and health problems are preventable. Three of the most common conditions to watch out for are dehydration, heat stroke, and heat exhaustion.

Dehydration

Your body needs water and other fluids to function. When you lose more fluid than you take in, you get dehydrated.

Mild or moderate dehydration is manageable by drinking more fluids, but severe dehydration requires medical attention.

The problem is that your body doesn’t always let you know early enough that you need more water. By the time you’re thirsty, you’re behind on your fluid replacement. Older people often don’t feel thirsty until they are actually dehydrated.

Experts say that when you have to be outside in the heat, it’s important to drink fluids before you even leave, otherwise you may not be able to catch up on what your body needs.
When you’re outdoors, especially if you’re working or exercising in the heat, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends drinking at least one cup (8 ounces) of water every day. 15 to 20 minutes. But don’t drink more than 48 ounces per hour, which can reduce your sodium level too much, causing confusion and other health problems.

You also want to stay hydrated after coming in from the heat, drinking enough fluids to replace what you’ve lost through sweating.

Chronic dehydration can increase your risk of kidney stones and urinary tract infections, as well as longer-term problems.

Heatstroke

The “most concerning consequence” of high heat is heat stroke, said Dr. Scott Dresden, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University.

With heatstrokethe body cannot cool itself and regulate its temperature.
At normal temperatures, your body loses water through sweating, breathing, and going to the bathroom. But when the humidity exceeds 75%, sweating becomes ineffective. Our body can only give off heat when the outside temperature is lower than our internal body temperature, usually around 98.6 degrees.

If the body’s temperature rises rapidly, its natural cooling mechanism – sweat – fails. A person’s temperature can reach a dangerous 106 degrees or more in just 10 or 15 minutes. This can lead to disability or even death.

Older adults, people taking certain medications like beta-blockers and antidepressants, and children may all have a harder time regulating heat. Alcohol can also prevent the body from regulating its temperature, as can dehydration or being overdressed for the heat.

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If you notice someone is confused, has flushed skin, seems to be breathing rapidly, or complains of a headache, seek shade or air conditioning. Cool them with cool water, ice packs or wet towels around the neck, head, armpits and groin. And get medical help as soon as possible.

A person with heatstroke may sweat profusely or not at all. They may become confused or pass out, and they could have a seizure. Untreated, heat stroke can quickly damage the brain. This can cause the heart to beat dangerously fast and the body to shut down.

You can reduce the risk of heatstroke by wearing loose, lightweight clothing. Also wear sunscreen: People who get sunburned have less ability to regulate their body temperature. To drink a lot of water. Try to avoid working outdoors or exercising during the hottest hours of the day. Allow yourself to acclimatize to high temperatures before you start running marathons or doing any other extreme outdoor exercise.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses too much water or salt through excessive sweating. Typically, this can happen when you are exposed to high temperatures combined with high humidity or if you are involved in strenuous physical activity, such as running or playing football.

Heat-related illnesses are the leading cause of death and disability among American high school athletes, According to the CDC. But it can be a problem for anyone involved in day-to-day activities like mowing the lawn or taking walks.

Signs of heat exhaustion may include cold or wet skin with goosebumps, heavy sweating, feeling faint or tired, unusual heartbeat, muscle cramps, headache, or nausea .

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If you think you or someone else is suffering from heat exhaustion, rest in the shade or in the air conditioning. Drink cool water. If symptoms do not improve, see a doctor.

At this point, the treatment is not so pleasant. “We typically use ice baths in our emergency room,” Dresden said. “We will do a cold water immersion.”

If that’s not available, a hospital can try wet sheets and a large ventilator.

How to stay healthy in the heat

Extremely high temperatures can be linked to at least 17 causes of death, most linked to heart and respiratory problems, but also suicide, drowning and homicide.

Studies have shown that exposure to oppressive heat can contribute to mental health issues, problems for pregnant women, and poor birth outcomes.

Even if you don’t work or exercise outdoors, be aware of temperature extremes.

Dr. Stephanie Lareau, an emergency physician in Rocky Mount, Va., said it’s important to monitor not just the temperature, but also the heat index. This takes humidity into account, and it may matter more for heat-related illnesses.

When planning activities, try to keep them out of the heat, especially if you have young children or older people in your social circle, as they don’t handle the heat as well.

“Make sure everyone is drinking plenty of fluids,” Lareau said. “You don’t have to drink large amounts of water, but drink some before you feel thirsty – and especially when you’re thirsty. These things are really important. Heat-related illnesses are totally preventable with the good approach.”