Heat Wave Safety

It can get too hot! During an average summer, some 200 people across the country die due to heat injuries from exposure to high summer temperatures.

Clearly, heat can be a force, particularly in Southern California, where temperatures exceed 100 degrees in the suburban valleys. It is not uncommon for temperatures to reach 110 degrees in the low desert areas during summer and fall. In the summer of 1999, high temperatures in the desert and mountain areas of Imperial and San Diego counties claimed the lives of at least 29 people.

Quick Heat Related Injuries
Heat-wave emergencies can strike very quickly. In 1995, for example, the city of Chicago's medical examiner received reports regarding the 1st heat-related fatalities at 9 p.m. on a Friday night. By 8 a.m. the following morning, an additional 87 people had died. These deaths were caused directly by the heat. It's uncertain, however, how many more people with heart conditions died sooner because of the heat.

Ultraviolet Rays
Exposure to sunlight is a mixed blessing. Although sun is necessary for life, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is potentially dangerous and can damage the skin. Varied burns result from prolonged exposure to UV rays, but some people also may burn from very little exposure. UV rays can significantly keep the skin from compensating for the excess heat.

Overexposure to heat or excessive exercise in the heat also can cause other injuries. The severity of such injuries increases with age; heat cramps in a younger person may be heat exhaustion in an elderly person. This occurs because the person has not adapted to the heat and is unable to adjust to the changes in the body.

The following recommendations are designed to help avoid heat-related death and injury.

Heat Conditions, Symptoms & First Aid
What you might see in a heat injury.

Sunburn is usually a first-degree burn that involves just the outer surface of the skin. Symptoms include redness and pain. Severe cases may cause swelling, blisters, fever of 102 degrees or above and headaches.

Heat Cramps
Heat Cramps often are related to dehydration. Symptoms include increased sweating with painful muscle spasms of the arms, legs and occasionally the abdomen.

Heat Exhaustion
Heat Exhaustion is the inability to sweat enough to cool you. Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting as well as cold, clammy, pale, red or flushed skin. A marked body temperature will not occur.

First Aid: Remove the victim from the heat. Lay the victim down and loosen the clothing. Apply cold compresses and cool the body by fanning the victim or placing the victim in a cool environment. Consult a physician if vomiting continues.

Heatstroke occurs when the body stops sweating but the body temperature continues to rise. Symptoms include visual disturbances, headache, nausea, vomiting, confusion and as the condition progresses, delirium or unconsciousness. The skin will be hot, dry, red or flushed even under the armpits. This condition is a severe medical emergency that could be fatal.

First Aid: Consult a physician immediately or call 9-1-1. Remove clothing and place victim in a cool environment, sponge the body with cool water or place the victim in a cool bath. Continue the process until temperature decreases. Do not provide fluids to an unconscious victim.

Preventing Heat Injuries
What you can do to prevent heat injuries
  • Avoid the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. when the burning rays are strongest.
  • Reduce physical activity.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and light-colored, lightweight, loose fitting clothes when you are outdoors. This type of clothing reflects heat and sunlight, which helps you maintain a normal body temperature.
  • Avoid sudden changes of temperatures, (e.g. air out a hot car before getting into it).
  • Avoid hot, heavy meals that include proteins. They increase your metabolism and water loss, and raise the body's natural way of cooling.
  • Set air conditioning thermostat between 75 and 80 degrees. If an air conditioner isn't available, take a cool bath or shower twice a day and visit air-conditioned public spaces during the hottest hours of the day.
  • Drink plenty of fluids even if not thirsty. Eight to 10 glasses of water a day is recommended. Drink even more if exercising or working in hot weather.
  • Do not drink alcohol or caffeine since they are diuretics (i.e. promote water loss).
  • Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 if going out in the sun.