Preparing for extreme heat: Why extreme heat forecasts, watches and warnings are important
Interlocutor: It’s an amazing statistic. Heat kills more people in the United States than any other natural disaster. We don’t think about it much especially here in Utah. It’s just something you have to deal with. But when you hear something like a warning or an overheat warning, you should pay attention. However, certain groups can be more susceptible than others to heat-related health problems.
Dr. Troy Madsen will help us better understand who should be alert when it gets too hot, how heat affects those groups, and what to do about it. Dr. Madsen, first of all, who are the groups that concern you when you learn that a heat warning has been issued?
Who is at risk during heat waves?
doctor. Madsen: The people we really worry about are the very old and the very young. They have difficulty regulating their body temperature, which can lead to overheating, leading to heat-related problems. If you’re taking certain medications, or if you have certain medical conditions like heart disease, kidney problems, prior issues with strokes, or neurological conditions, obviously, we’re talking about just all of us who are likely to have problems and potentially We face it being exposed to heat.
But make sure you check out these people. I think that’s one of the scariest things is seniors who don’t want to ask for help, who may have an air conditioner and the air conditioner doesn’t work or turns off or something happens and they don’t call. Help, and you go to check on them and they are not responding or they have died. Unfortunately, that happens during these heat waves, and I think that’s where we see a lot of deaths. So check out these people, family members and friends.
And when you’re out and about with infants and toddlers, be aware that if they feel hot, they’re really hot because, again, they have trouble regulating their body temperature. So you just have to make sure that you are fully aware of how they work and check them regularly and avoid extreme heat with these individuals.
The effect of heat on the body
Interlocutor: How does heat affect the body that causes the problems in the first place?
doctor. Madsen: Well, heat does two things. One thing it does is that it pushes blood away from the organs. The way this happens is when you feel heat, your blood vessels expand. Part of that is pushing blood to your extremities and trying to cool your heart. But you can imagine at the same time that the blood is moving to your extremities, it’s moving away from your core organs, your heart, your kidneys, your brain. You will get less blood flow to those organs. And organs that are already at risk can be pushed over the edge, where they don’t get the blood flow they need, and then that can cause the tissue there to collapse, kind of like a stroke. The same thing happens with a stroke. You’re not getting the blood flow you need to your brain, and then that causes problems as it’s not getting the blood flow and oxygen it needs to function.
And with some medications, these medications can also affect, firstly, blood pressure, so they can cause problems with blood flow to the organs. But medications can also affect the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. Some medications may cause this to happen, causing your body to not respond to heat well, and your internal temperature to become hotter than it would be for someone else.
The other thing that heat does is sometimes raise temperatures that the body’s cells cannot handle. It causes the actual breakdown of those cells, and then that process leads to more processes and inflammation, and then that can cause a lot of the problems that we also think about with heat.
Identify heat-related illnesses
Interlocutor: Are there symptoms that usually accompany heat-related illnesses? Now I’m probably talking about healthy individuals and individuals who may have underlying conditions or the very young and elderly. Are the symptoms always the same?
doctor. Madsen: Well, we always think of heatstroke, where you feel disoriented and have difficulty concentrating. People even faint from it. That’s one way we look at it. And no matter what category you fall into, whether that’s the at-risk group or just the average person, we can all experience those things. But with some of these other conditions or some of these other problems, let’s say you have kidney problems, you may see your urine turn brown, like the color of dark tea. This could be a problem with muscle breakdown in the body, causing kidney problems.
Certainly, if you are prone to strokes or have had problems in the past, you may have issues similar to strokes, weakness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty walking, balance, speech, things like that. Heart attacks are another issue too.
So, again, you can talk about the specific organs that it affects, and you might think in those types of situations that you might have heart attack symptoms, stroke symptoms, kidney problems. Or the bigger picture of that heat exhaustion versus heatstroke, where you’re so hot or so hot that you have trouble concentrating, and then you even pass out.
The dangers of prolonged heat waves
Interlocutor: The heat can be somewhat cumulative. So, like the first day, you might feel fine, but after two or three days you might start to notice those effects. Is this the case?
doctor. Madsen: definitely. And probably the biggest thing I think about is more effects on the kidneys, where you get dehydrated, you sweat a lot, you don’t have enough fluid in your body, and after three or four days he can have at least some mild kidney failure. In some cases, it can even lead to acute kidney failure, where your kidneys don’t work.
Protect yourself against heat
Interlocutor: How can one protect themselves if they know they are taking medications or have a condition that might make them vulnerable when a heat wave comes and hears there is an excessive heat warning or advisory from the National Weather Service? What can a person do to protect himself from these things?
doctor. Madsen: Well, you know, the obvious answer is to stay calm. We always tell people that, try to stay calm, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. You may not have air conditioning in your home. So, if you can find some way to get to a place with air conditioning in the event of a heat wave, it will be essential.
If this is not an option, try evaporative cooling. This is something that’s more effective here in Utah than in other humid areas, where you turn on a fan, get a spray bottle with cold water, and spray it on yourself. This cold water then exits your body and draws heat from it as it evaporates. So evaporative cooling can be very effective.
Keep body temperatures low
You know, cold showers, things like that, anything just to get your body temperature down. Being aware of what you’re doing, avoiding vigorous activities, working in the yard, and doing strenuous activities during those heat waves will certainly protect you as well.
Interlocutor: And if someone already has a job where they have to work abroad, and they know they have one of the underlying conditions, is there some additional advice you can give that individual? Because staying in a cold bath may not be a suitable option for them that day.
doctor. Madsen: Probably not, unless you work in a pool.
Interlocutor: Yes exactly.
doctor. Madsen: But most people don’t have that luxury. Yes, I think the most important thing is frequent rest periods. Take frequent breaks, sit in the shade, consider taking a cool spray bottle to work, and make sure your manager is aware. This is one of those things where you just have to say, “Hey, I have to take frequent breaks.” You don’t have to disclose your medical condition, but you can say, “Hey, I have a condition where I just need breaks, and this temperature might affect me more than it affects you or some other people.” The workers are here.” So that would be my recommendation.
Interlocutor: And I’ve seen some of these things that you can like wrap around your neck, you can soak it in water and wrap it around your neck or wrap it around your head. Are those effective?
doctor. Madsen: To a certain extent. this is funy. Try these things out, and you’ll find they instantly feel great. But after about 10 minutes, these things get hot. . .
doctor. Madsen: And you say, oh, I have a nice wet towel around my neck. And then very quickly, it just becomes insulating and retains heat. So it’s very nice when it’s nice and cold. But just be aware of that and be aware that it may do more harm than good if you leave it for a long period of time and if it’s not really cold water.