The West is experiencing a massive heat wave and seeing record high temperatures.
Though many can blast their air conditioners and fans, more than 700 people a year in the United States die from extreme heat, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s what experts say you need to know to avoid heat illness.
What happens to the body?
Dr. Daniel Vigil, a health science clinical professor at UCLA, says the human body reacts if the core temperature is too hot or too cold. When dealing with extreme heat, people can start seeing problems such as liver and kidney failure, as well as brain dysfunction.
“Your body just starts to fail,” Vigil says.
Signs of heat illness
Signs of heat-related illness include headaches, dizziness, nausea and confusion, according to the CDC.
There are different levels of heat illness. Dr. David Nester from the Mayo Clinic says the first thing is heat cramps, which can include heavy sweating and thirst.
Next is heat exhaustion, which brings with it a rapid heart rate.
The last and most severe level is heatstroke. That can cause permanent damage to your body.
“This is a true medical emergency,” Nester says of heatstroke. “It can absolutely result in death.”
Who’s most at risk?
The CDC says young children, people 65 or older and those who are overweight or physically ill are at a higher risk of succumbing to extreme heat.
When places known for their cooler weather, like Denver, experience extreme heat, it can feel different to people there than it would to someone living in a warmer climate, according to Vigil, because they aren’t acclimatized.
“If you’re in a place where you’re just not used to having such an abrupt heat elevation, your body’s not used to it,” Vigil says. “So your ability to dissipate heat and to maintain a proper body temperature is going to be challenged.”
What if you don’t have AC?
Dr. Grant Lipman, a professor of emergency medicine at Stanford University, says one of the easiest ways to cool down is to avoid humid areas and maximize your body’s evaporative cooling.
“Get a spray bottle, get a fan, put the two together and spray yourself with water and fanning it down,” Lipman says. “You’re basically inducing more evaporative cooling. So I think that’s the easy fix.”
If you or someone you know is suffering from the heat, he says the immediate thing to do is cool them down.
“Cover their head with cold water to get that wet cooling going because, every second that’s delayed, you have cells that are being destroyed and the mortality goes up significantly,” he says.
Drinking water and staying hydrated might seem the obvious thing to do when it’s hot, but it’s not that simple, according to Nestler.
He says people “shouldn’t just drink plain water all day. They should try to have something with it. A juice is fine, and this is where the sports drinks actually really come in handy.”
The reason? Electrolytes. You lose those when you sweat and need them, Vigil says — and sports drinks can help replace them.
As nice as a cold beer on a hot day might sound, drinking too much alcohol increases urination and dehydration, meaning people can get hotter faster.
“Excess alcohol with excess heat is a recipe for disaster,” Lipman says.
What else not to do
When it’s really hot out, people shouldn’t stay in direct sunlight for long or go outside without using sunscreen, Lipman says.
And they also shouldn’t be without a plan for dealing with the heat.
“Everyone realizes that they have a plan of cold weather by bundling up in layers,” he says. “People don’t think of how they can prepare for this hot weather by taking some simple precautions.”
And don’t ignore symptoms of heat stress.
“For a person to recognize it or for a friend to recognize it in the suffering person and do something about it is not just appropriate but actually could be life-saving,” Vigil says.
Read more at usatoday.com