- Departments A–F
- Emergency Management
- Extreme Heat and Sun Safety
- Hot Weather Health Dangers
Hot Weather Health Dangers
People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But, sometimes sweating just isn't enough, and the person’s body temperature rises rapidly – which can damage the brain or other vital organs.
Several factors affect the body's ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Most heat-related problems occur because the individual has been overexposed to conditions or has participated in strenuous activities during hot weather. However, some — including the elderly, the very young, and people with mental illness and chronic diseases — are at higher risk for complications. Other conditions related to risk include obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use.
Hot Weather Health Dangers
- Heat Cramps are muscle aches due to over-exertion during a heat wave. This is the first sign of heat-related problems and is typically caused by a depletion of salt and/or moisture in the body due to sweating. Individuals usually experience pain or spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs with heat cramps. Treatment is to stop activity, drink a cool, non-alcoholic drink and rest in a cool place for several hours.
- Heat Exhaustion is a mild form of shock caused by strenuous activity in the heat. Symptoms include heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale and/or clammy skin; a fast, yet weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; and fainting. In addition to resting in a cool place, those suffering from heat exhaustion may enjoy a cool, non-alcoholic beverage unless vomiting occurs (if this happens, seek immediate medical attention).
- Heat Stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s temperature control system shuts down. Brain damage or death can result if the body is not cooled immediately, and medical care is not obtained. DO NOT give a victim of heat stroke fluids unless explicitly told to do so by a medical professional. Symptoms include a high body temperature (above 103 degrees); hot, red, moist or dry skin; a rapid and strong pules; and unconsciousness.
- Sunburns and Skin Cancer are caused by damage to the skin layers through excessive exposure to the sun. Symptoms of sunburn include reddened skin that may be hot to the touch and painful, fluid-filled blisters and fever. In addition to being painful, a severe sunburn reduces the skin’s ability to release excess heat and leads to additional heat-related illnesses. Signs of skin cancer include a new skin growth that changes color or size, a growth that is asymmetrical, and soreness that doesn’t heal or changes sensation (itching, tender, painful, etc.). To prevent sunburns and skin cancer, it is advised to avoid exposure to the sun, wear protective clothing and hats, and use a sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or greater.
Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses
- Drink more fluids, regardless of your activity level.
- Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
- Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar—these will actually cause you to lose more body fluid.
- Stay indoors, and if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall, public library or cooling center to help your body stay cooler (see the link below for a list of St. Charles County Cooling Centers or call the United Way at 2-1-1).
- Wear lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing.
- NEVER leave anyone or any pets in a closed, parked vehicle.
- Although anyone at any time can suffer from heat-related illnesses, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on:
- Infants and young children that cannot cool themselves
- People ages 65 and older
- People who have mental or physical illness
Sun Damaged Skin
Although vital for the survival of every living thing, too much exposure to the sun’s rays can have damaging effects. Many consider a tan to be an attractive feature that is a sign of good health, but melanin (the pigment that colors the skin and shows off as a tan) is actually a signal that skin cells have been damaged by ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Each person reacts differently, but everyone’s skin can be harmed by too much sunlight. One in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, with more than 1 million new cases diagnosed each year. In addition to potentially deadly cancers, excessive sun exposure can cause irreversible damage like premature aging, vision defects and a suppressed immune system.
Minimizing Sun Damage
Avoiding peak periods (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) when UV rays are strongest is the best way to minimize your risk, but taking other steps can add to your protection. Even when skies are cloudy a person can be at risk, so wearing clothing like wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts and long pants will cover skin to add protection. Using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher on all exposed areas will protect from UVA and UVB rays, but this sunscreen must be continually re-applied — especially after excessive sweating or time in the pool. Please be aware that sunscreen can expire within 3 years of purchase and should be discarded after this expiration, or if exposed to excessive temperatures. Sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays are necessary to protect your eyes. While you can reduce the risk of exposure by remaining in the shade, you should still apply sunscreen with this for maximum protection.
There are three main types of skin cancer – melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. When the cancer forms in the melanocytes (the skin cells that make pigment), this is called a melanoma (PDF) and is the most serious form because it can spread to other areas of the body. Basal cell (lower part of the epidermis) and squamous cell (surface level of the skin) cancers (PDF) form directly in the skin layers and typically do not spread.