Summer is the time for fun, vacations, picnics, and outdoor activities. It can also be the time for extreme weather conditions, including dangerously high temperatures in some areas of the United States. While heat waves can sometimes last for days, the impact they have can last for much longer.
A “heat wave” occurs the when temperature rises to abnormally high levels for two or more continuous days. In most of the United States, a heat wave is more likely to occur from May through September. Heat-related illnesses are typically the highest during July and August, but can happen at any time.
It is also worth noting that the heat index or temperature reported may not take into account stagnant air, and the impact that heat can have on someone with pre-existing conditions. If you work or exercise in these conditions, be very cautious, especially if you have underlying health issues or are not used to the heat. Extreme heat can make it difficult for the body to regulate temperature through normal methods such as sweating and breathing. Exposure to the sun’s rays can also burn the outer layer of the skin.
According to statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), each year in the United States there are 67,512 visits to the emergency department for heat-related illnesses (also called hyperthermia). While most people are treated and released, 9,235 of those individuals end up hospitalized. Although rare, 702 people die each year from heat-related illnesses.
The impact of extremely high temperatures extends beyond physical health –it can also create stress a number of other factors. Power supplies can be put to the test as more people use air conditioning. Farmers, power plants, and people all need more water. Certain types of workers may lose wages or incur high medical bills if they are unable to work due to the heat or become ill. Hot weather can truly have a ripple effect.
People who work in certain fields can be particularly at risk to heat-related illnesses and should take special precautions. Construction workers, fire fighters, law enforcement, utility workers, warehouse employees, factory workers, and agricultural workers are just a few examples. Whether you work outside, exercise outdoors, or just enjoy basking in the sun, knowing your risks and taking protective measures can go a long way toward staying safe and healthy.
According to Heat.gov, recommendations include:
Dr. Aaron Robertson, Medical Director of PAM Health Rehabilitation of Fargo, expanded on the advice above: “PREVENTION is paramount… The body responds to dehydration relatively slowly so by the time thirst kicks in, you are already in the danger zone when it comes to being in intense heat. We need to drink significantly more than we think we need to, and the key is to start before the exposure. We should continue to drink throughout the time in the heat even if we aren't feeling thirsty.”
Some of the most common heat-related illnesses include:
Treatment for each of these conditions varies depending upon the severity of the illness and the overall health of the individual. For heat stroke, it is imperative to call 911 as soon as possible. In each situation, consult with a medical professional for advice on the appropriate steps to take.
The good news is that most heat-related illness is preventable. By understanding your risks and taking the steps to stay healthy, you can work, exercise, and play outside safely. At PAM Health, we care about your health and want you to be as healthy as possible so you can live your best life. Our goal is to provide education and support to prevent illness or injury whenever possible.