Extreme Heat Events
Some alcoholics, addicts, gamblers, ACOA’ and co-dependents may get so tied up in their dysfunctional behaviour or recovery that normal self-knowledge and self-awareness may be overlooked. This is very similar to denial. This may be the case with exposure to ‘heat waves’ or higher than normal exposure (duration and temperature change) to atmospheric temperatures. Self awareness of body temperature and hydration may become critical.
Many regions experience frequent and severe extreme heat events, sometimes called “heat waves” that can put your health at risk. It is important to take precautions to protect yourself and those you may be caring for.
Extreme Heat Events
During extreme heat events (as announced by your local municipality/Health Unit) conditions of high temperature and/or humidity are present. Your body produces heat, especially during physical activity. Hot air and exposure to direct sun rays or hot surfaces also heat your body. This heat is lost by contact with cool air and by sweat production, which cools your body as it evaporates. Weather conditions play a big role in how your body regulates its temperature. For example, if it’s windy, sweat evaporates faster, which helps to cool you. However, high humidity slows down this process, contributing to increased body temperature.
Health Risks of Extreme Heat Events
While extreme heat can put everyone at risk from heat illnesses, health risks are greatest for:
- older adults
- infants and young children
- people with chronic illnesses, such as breathing difficulties, mental illness or heart conditions
- alcoholics, addicts and substance users
- people who work in the heat
- people who exercise in the heat
- homeless people
- low-income earners
If you are taking medication or have a health condition, ask your doctor or pharmacist if it increases your health risk in the heat and follow their recommendations.
Heat illnesses can lead to long-term health problems and even death. These illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat fainting, heat edema (swelling of hands, feet and ankles), heat rash and heat cramps (muscle cramps) and are mainly caused by over-exposure to extreme heat or over-exertion for a person’s age and physical condition.
Reduce Your Risk
Heat illnesses are preventable. During very hot weather, the most important thing is to keep cool and hydrated.
Follow these five steps to protect yourself in very hot weather
Step 1 – Prepare for the heat
Tune in regularly to local weather forecasts and alerts so you know when to take extra care.
Arrange for regular visits by family members, neighbours or friends during very hot days in case you need assistance. Visitors can help identify signs of heat illness that could be missed over the phone.
If you have an air conditioner, make sure it works properly before the hot weather starts. Otherwise, find an air-conditioned spot close by where you can cool off for a few hours during very hot days. This will help you better cope with the heat.
Step 2 – Pay close attention to how you – and those around you – feel
Watch for symptoms of heat illness, which include:
- dizziness or fainting
- nausea or vomiting
- rapid breathing and heartbeat
- extreme thirst (dry mouth or sticky saliva)
- decreased urination with unusually dark yellow urine
If you experience any of these symptoms during hot weather, immediately move to a cool place and drink liquids. Water is best.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency! Call your local emergency number immediately if you are caring for someone, such as a neighbour, who has a high body temperature and is either unconscious, confused or has stopped sweating.
While waiting for help – cool the person right away by:
- moving them to a cool place, if you can
- applying cold water to large areas of the skin or clothing
- fanning the person as much as possible
Step 3 – Stay hydrated
Drink plenty of cool liquids, especially water, before you feel thirsty to decrease your risk of dehydration. Thirst is not a good indicator of dehydration.
- Remind yourself to drink water by leaving a glass by the sink
- Flavouring water with natural fruit juice may make it more appealing
- Eat more fruits and vegetables as they have a high water content
- If you eat less, you may need to drink more water
Step 4 – Stay cool
Dress for the weather – Wear loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing made from breathable fabric.
Keep your home cool
- If you have an air conditioner with a thermostat, keep it set to the highest setting that is comfortable (somewhere between 22°C/72°F and 26°C/79°F), which will reduce your energy costs and provide you with needed relief.
- If you are using a window air conditioner, cool only one room where you can go for heat relief.
- Prepare meals that don’t need to be cooked in your oven.
- Block the sun by closing awnings, curtains or blinds during the day.
- If safe, open your windows at night to let cooler air into your home.
If your home is extremely hot
- Take a break from the heat by spending a few hours in a cool place. It could be a tree-shaded area, swimming facility or an air-conditioned spot such as a shopping mall, grocery store, or public library.
- Take cool showers or baths until you feel refreshed. Make sure to use non-slip surfaces in the tub and shower, and wipe up moisture immediately to avoid slipping and falling.
- Use a fan to help you stay cool and aim the air flow in your direction.
Step 5 – Avoid exposure to very hot temperatures when outdoors
Never leave people or pets in your care inside a parked vehicle or in direct sunlight.
- When outside air temperature is 23°C/73°F, the temperature inside a vehicle can be extremely dangerous – more than 50°C/122°F.
Reschedule or plan outdoor activities during cooler parts of the day.
- Before heading out, check the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) in your area, if available – air pollution tends to be at higher levels during very hot days.
- If you are in an area where mosquitoes are active, protect yourself with insect repellent and follow the manufacturer’s directions.
Avoid sun exposure. Shade yourself by wearing a wide-brimmed, breathable hat or using an umbrella.
- Tree-shaded areas could be as much as 5ºC/9ºF cooler than the surrounding area.
- Use a sunscreen that is SPF 15 or higher and follow the manufacturer’s directions. Remember, sunscreen will protect against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays but not from the heat.
- Sunscreen and insect repellents can be safely used together, apply the sunscreen first, then the insect repellent. Sunscreens and insect repellents work for different lengths of time so follow the instructions on the label.