Extreme heat can be deadly. Hyperthermia, or abnormally high body temperature, is the term applied to the many heat-related illnesses that can cause a firestorm of maladies in your body. Heat stroke, sun stroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps can come upon you like a house on fire and consume you almost as quickly.
Extreme heat does not refer to those lazy, hazy days of beach play and picnics beside a lake or when temperatures are merely in to the eighties and the humidity is low. We’re talking temperatures close to 100 degrees or more or the combination of high temps and humidity that can be life-threatening.
Heat conditions that are too extreme for your body will render it unable to cool itself and allow your internal temperature to soar. This kind of heat is similar to having a fever over 104 degrees — it begins to damage your vital organs, your heart and brain, and will eventually kill you.
There are steps you can take to beat the heat. From a poorly ventilated apartment with no air conditioning to the stuffy cab of a bulldozer in the middle of July, you can survive the dog days of summer no matter where you are.
Learn from Your ForefathersAs hard as it is for Generations X, Y or Z to imagine a world without air-conditioning, cellphones or the Internet, there are still many people and places in the world that lack those amenities. There are also those who choose to forego those things for ecological or economic reasons. And as un-imaginable as it may seem to anyone under 30, it can be survived. Just ask a Baby Boomer or your grandparents.
Surviving and Thriving In Spite of the HeatHere are tips for staying cool:
Fight the fire by escaping it:Avoid direct sunlight and try to stay in the shade during the hottest part of the day — between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Create shade if none is available by hanging a piece of fabric as a makeshift curtain or wearing a wide-brimmed hat to shield your face and head from the sun. The heat index tells us how hot we really feel when humidity and temperature are combined. Strong wind and full sun exposure can add as much as 15 degrees to the heat our body is experiencing. Stay out of direct sun during those hours if you can.
Get naked or as close to it as possible:The more skin you expose, the easier it is for your body to dissipate heat through sweating. However, unless you’re a lucky landscaper or construction worker at a nudist colony, going commando is probably illegal and not an actual option for any of us. So if you must wear clothes while in extreme heat conditions, wear just enough to remain within the law. Choose light-weight, loose-fitting, light-colored and breathable fabrics. Clothes that are suited to extreme heat help your body reflect the heat of the sun and wick the moisture off your skin to keep you cool.
Water, water and more water:Dehydration makes hyperthermia worse. Heavy laborers working outside need to drink a lot of water to keep their body from overheating — perhaps as much as a quart or two every hour. Avoid sugary drinks or those with caffeine or alcohol — they do more harm than good by making your dehydration worse.
Water can also be used to cool your body from the outside. Soak a head-scarf or towel in cold water before wrapping around your head or neck to reduce the heat you feel. Putting a pan of cold water and ice in front of a fan blowing in your direction can also help cool the air around you.
How Much Is Too Much?When soaring temps cannot be avoided and air-conditioning is not currently installed where you are or where you work — like behind a machine or on top of heavy equipment outdoors — be aware of what your body is telling you. It is vital to your health.
Here’s how to know if the heat is getting to you:
- Muscle pains and aches are often the first sign your body is not handling the heat. Painful spasms in your legs or abdomen along with unusually heavy sweating are a sign of heat cramps or heat exhaustion and must be dealt with. Immediately get to a cooler location if possible and begin sipping water — 4 ounces every 15 minutes — if you are not already nauseous. Apply cool compresses to your skin and lie down to minimize your exertion. Seek medical attention if vomiting occurs.
- Watch for breathing problems — shallow or rapid breathing, a weak pulse, and hot, red and dry skin. These are signs of an abnormally high body temperature (105+) and the onset of heat stroke. Heat stroke is your body’s last defense before unconsciousness, coma or death. Get to a hospital or call 911 as soon as possible. A delay could mean death.
Good News for the Working ManYour body can adapt to the heat if it is regularly exposed to it. If you are used to working outside in warm weather you probably won’t succumb to hyperthermia as quickly as those who are new to extreme heat conditions. Our bodies are able to double their sweat output as well as sweating at a lower temperature once acclimated to the weather. However, acclimation takes at least a week or two so don’t count on it if you’re new to outside work.
The better choice is to monitor your feelings and overall condition closely while exposed to extreme heat. If you feel hotter than usual — hotter on the inside — take note. If you experience a change in your breathing or the onset of pain, stop what you are doing and get out of the heat — your health could depend on it.
Staying cool is not just for Fonzie anymore.
Alicia grew up in Alaska where she earned her hunter and wilderness safety license at age 13. She now works as a content coordinator for a tech company in Pennsylvania and blogs in her free time at Homey Improvements.