“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” It’s an overused — but accurate — idiom Kansans can relate to this time of year. Summers in the Sunflower State can be brutally hot, contributing to a host of heat-related illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heat is typically the top weather-related killer in the U.S. and can cause heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke — the latter two can be life threatening.
Anyone is susceptible to heat-related illnesses, but some factors increase the risk such as heart disease, use of certain prescription drugs and obesity. Older adults, the very young and those with chronic illnesses have a higher risk, as do those who spend time outside in a hot and humid environment — farmers, construction workers, and utility and maintenance workers. Keep in mind, school athletes will begin practicing sports this month and strenuous activity during hot weather puts them at risk too.
Know the Stages of Heat Emergencies
Heat emergencies have three stages: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. All three are serious and must be addressed. Getting treatment in the initial stages can prevent the most serious stage of heatstroke.
Heat cramps symptoms:
- Muscle pain in the legs, arms or abdomen.
- Muscle spasms in the legs, arms or abdomen.
- Body temperature remains normal.
- Cool, moist skin.
- Heat exhaustion symptoms:
- Quick, shallow breathing.
- Heavy sweating and thirst.
- Muscle cramps.
- Headache and irritability.
- Elevated body temperature and heart rate.
- Weak, quick pulse.
- Moist, cool skin; pale skin color.
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
- Decrease in urination.
- Dizziness, weakness, lack of coordination and fainting.
Symptoms of heatstroke include:
- A quick, strong pulse.
- Dizziness, fainting, loss of consciousness.
- Slurred speech, confusion, agitation, hallucinations, altered mental state.
- Dry, red, hot skin.
- Temperature of 105 F or higher.
- Muscle twitching.
- No sweating despite the heat, humidity.
Heatstroke is a medical emergency that can lead to organ failure and death. Call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately.
Monitor Conditions with Heat Safety Tool App
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration created the Heat Safety Tool app as a resource for planning outside activities. It can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play and features:
- A visual indicator of the current heat index and associated risk levels specific to your current geographical location.
- Precautionary recommendations specific to heat index-associated risk levels.
- An interactive, hourly forecast of heat index values, risk level, and recommendations for planning outdoor work activities in advance.
- Editable location, temperature, and humidity controls for calculation of variable conditions.
- Signs and symptoms and first-aid information for heat-related illnesses.
Prevent a Heat Emergency
To avoid a heat illness and heat emergencies, seek shade or a well-ventilated or air-conditioned area for breaks from the heat. If you must be outside during the hottest times of the day:
- Drink water every 15 minutes even if you’re not thirsty.
- Rest often.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine; drink electrolyte drinks low in sugar.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control, Healthline Media, Cleveland Clinic, American Red Cross