Idaho and the Pacific Northwest are experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures this week, with high temperatures in the triple digits in many parts of the state, and several agencies, including the National Weather Service and some of Idaho’s local public health districts, issuing excessive heat warnings and advisories. Heat-related illnesses are a very real possibility, but the good news is that they are preventable. You will need to stay cool, stay hydrated, and stay informed.
What are some signs of heat-related illnesses?
Signs of heat exhaustion include dizziness, heavy sweating, a pale appearance to the skin, muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, and headaches. If things get worse to the point where you have a very high body temperature, are not sweating, and are experiencing hallucinations or disorientation, or you pass out, you may have heat stroke. Call 9-1-1 right away and take immediate steps to cool down.
Who is most at risk for heat-related illness?
People at the highest risk are babies and children up to age 4, people 65 and older, as well as anyone who is overweight, sick, or on certain medications. People without air conditioning, athletes, and outdoor workers are also at high risk of heat-related illness. Children are particularly at risk in the heat – their bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults. But everyone can get sick in the heat if they’re not careful, especially if they’re doing strenuous physical activities in high temperatures. When it’s hot out, you might consider checking on any high-risk family, friends, and neighbors to make sure they are staying cool.
Are there other factors that put us at risk?
A number of things can make it more difficult for your body to keep cool, including older age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, and even sunburn. A cold beer in the heat of the day might sound like a good idea, but it’s not. Drinking alcohol in hot weather can make it even harder to keep cool. Water works best to cool your body down.
What are the best ways to stay hydrated?
On hot days, you should drink more water than normal regardless of your activity level. Alcohol and sugary beverages should be avoided. Plan to drink two to four glasses of water or a drink fortified with electrolytes each hour if you are working or exercising outside. Drinks with electrolytes, such as sports drinks, are best if you will be working or exercising outside for several hours. Drink enough so that your urine is a normal amount and color each time you go to the bathroom.
What are some tips for staying cool in the heat?
Stay inside air-conditioned buildings whenever you can; in extreme heat, a fan may not be enough. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, head to a public building that does: the library, a shopping mall, or movie theater, for example. If you must be active outside, try to plan your biking, hiking, gardening, and other outdoor activities for in the morning, when it’s cooler. If you feel overheated, take a cool shower or bath to bring your temperature down.
Also, never, ever leave a child or pet alone in a parked car when it’s hot. The interior temperature of a vehicle can increase 19 degrees in 10 minutes, even with a window cracked open, which can create very dangerous conditions for children and pets who can’t get out of the vehicle when they get uncomfortable.
Dr. Christine Hahn is Idaho’s epidemiologist and medical director in the Department of Health and Welfare’s Division of Public Health.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.