Heat Wave: Be Smart, Be Safe

The brutal heat wave that has been suffocating the Midwest, Great Plains, and parts of the South in triple-digit heat and oppressive humidity is coming our way.  The forecast for tomorrow and Friday is for temperatures to reach almost – if not above – 100°F, and the heat index, or how hot it really feels when relative humidity is factored with the actual air temperature, will be far above that.

The greatest at-risk groups are the very young (children under 4 years of age), the elderly, and those who have underlying medical conditions.  But we must all be vigilant: heat also threatens healthy young people, usually because they do not recognize the dangers of exercising and being active in hot, humid weather.

When heat and humidity combine, they slow evaporation of sweat from the body, which is the mechanism by which our bodies cool down.  Therefore, outdoor exercise becomes dangerous even for those in good shape.

The CDC has provided a very comprehensive list of things you should do to protect yourself, your family, and your neighbors from heat-related illness:

Stay Cool

  • Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible
  • Find an air-conditioned shelter
  • Do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device
  • Avoid direct sunlight
  • Never leave infants or children in a parked car. Nor should pets be left in parked cars—they can suffer heat-related illness too.
  • Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing
  • Take cool showers or baths
  • Check on those most at-risk (the elderly, those with medical conditions, those who are ill, and those who live alone) twice a day

Stay Hydrated

  • Drink more water than usual
  • Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink more fluids
  • Drink from two to four cups of water every hour while working or exercising outside.  Some amount of sports drink (e.g., Gatorade®) consumption can be helpful to replace electrolytes, particularly salt, but most of your consumption should be from water.
  • Avoid alcohol or liquids containing high amounts of sugar
  • Remind others to drink enough water

Stay Informed

  • Check local news for extreme heat alerts and safety tips.  The City of Boston has a website page with important phone numbers and a listing of pools and cooling centers, as does Mass 2-1-1 for areas outside Boston.  You can also call 211 for additional information.
  • Sign up for free weather alerts to your phone or email
  • Learn the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and what you should do.  Problems can begin with muscle cramps, but can escalate to heat exhaustion.  If you can’t cool off on your own after 30 minutes in a cool environment, or if you have shortness of breath, chest pain, or cannot stop vomiting, call your doctor’s office immediately.
  • Heat Stroke is a very dangerous condition that requires immediate medical attention.  If someone is exhibiting any of the symptoms of heat stroke, you should immediately call 911.

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