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Get Ready for Another Major Heat Wave

Experts expect more than 100 high-temperature records to be broken in the coming week, not only in the Southern U.S. but also across the Eastern seaboard as another heat wave rolls across the country.

Experts expect more than 100 high-temperature records to be broken in the coming week in the Southern US and across the Eastern seaboard as another heat wave rolls across the country. People living in the central Plains and the Southeast US have already been feeling the heat as a massive “heat dome” settled over the nation this past weekend. Hundreds of thousands of homes lost power as the grid struggled to keep up with those trying to cool their homes in oppressive three-digit temperatures that peaked at 10 to 25 degrees above average from Chicago to Portland, Maine.

But instead of dropping to the more tolerable temperatures of a typical June, meteorologists warn that about 70% of the population will see temps in the 90s and one in five Americans will be sweltering in 100 degrees or more. While this lingering heat leaves everyone miserable, it can also be deadly, especially for those without the infrastructure to deal with it.

Heat-related deaths have already been ticking up in the past two decades as the planet has gradually grown warmer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Now climate and health experts worry that those numbers will keep climbing at a time when so many other health threats, including a continuing wave of Covid infections, are already underway.

It’s not just heat stroke that people need to worry about. Excessive temperatures also exacerbate other conditions and increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. “Overall, the interaction of heat and cardiovascular disease caused about one-fourth of the heat-related deaths” since 1999 in the EPA’s analysis.

The high level of risk makes it the responsibility of all healthcare professionals to check in with patients and educate their communities about reducing the risk of serious heat-related illnesses. The EPA has published a free online resource called the Excessive Heat Events Guidebook that health professionals, policymakers, community leaders, and the general public can consult to understand the threat of heat-related illnesses better, the risk factors of these conditions, and how to reduce the risk.

A two-page summary brief of the handbook offers the most important tips:

  • Use air conditioners or spend time in air-conditioned locations, such as malls, libraries, cafes, stores, community centers, and other public places.
  • Use portable electric fans to exhaust hot air from rooms or draw in cooler air when the temperature is below 90 degrees. However, temperatures above 90 degrees do not direct a fan toward you.
  • Take a cool bath or shower, or visit a public swimming pool.
  • Minimize direct exposure to the sun. While the ambient temperature remains the same whether you’re in the sun or the shade, it can feel 10 to 15 degrees cooler in the shade because you’re avoiding the direct radiation of the sun.
  • Stay hydrated by regularly drinking water or other nonalcoholic fluids. Alcohol is dehydrating and should be avoided.
  • Eat light, cool, easy-to-digest foods such as fruit or salads, and avoid hot, heavy, spicy, or difficult-to-digest meals.
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothes, ideally from cooler fabrics like linen or cotton. Avoid dark-colored clothing and clothing made from heavier or heat-trapping fabrics.
  • Check on older, sick, or frail people who may need help responding to the heat. Drive them to a cooler place if possible.
  • Never leave a child or pets in a car for any amount of time.

Know the symptoms of excessive heat exposure and the appropriate responses:

  • Heat cramps involve painful muscle cramps and spasms, typically in the leg and abdominal muscles, and heavy sweating.
  • Treatment involves putting firm pressure on cramping muscles or gently massaging them to relieve spasms. The person should take sips of water unless they develop nausea, at which point they should see a medical professional.
  • Heat exhaustion symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, a weak pulse, and cool, pale, or clammy skin. A person can have heat exhaustion even if their temperature is normal, and they may experience muscle cramps, dizziness, fainting, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Treatment involves ensuring they are out of the sun, lying down, and loosening their clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths to their skin and provide a fan or move them to a room with air conditioning. Again, provide sips of water unless they develop nausea. If they continue vomiting, they need immediate medical attention.
  • The symptoms of heat stroke involve an altered mental state, often accompanied by a headache, confusion, nausea, and dizziness. People with heat stroke have an elevated body temperature, typically 106 degrees or higher, and a rapid, strong pulse. They may become unconscious, and their skin may be hot and dry or sweating.
  • Heat stroke is a medical emergency requiring immediate medical attention. If the person cannot be taken to a hospital, move them to a cooler location, ideally an air-conditioned one, while waiting for medical assistance to arrive.
  • Reduce their body temperature with a water mister and fan or sponging. Remove their clothing, and do not give them fluids.
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