Many viewers of the latest weather reports for the New York region as with many around the U.S.A. this pre-holiday weekend uttered, Oh no, not again: But yes, here comes this summer s second heat wave.
While sweltering with record-breaking heat and humidity is unpleasant for everyone, it is not widely recognized that such weather conditions amount to a major health risk, especially for certain vulnerable sub-populations.
A heat wave is three days or more of 90 degree plus weather. The heat can be dangerous: in fact, hot weather can causeheat stroke and exacerbate chronic medical conditions, and may lead to severe complications and even death. Extreme heat kills more Americans each year on average than all other natural disasters combined. In New York City alone, a spokeswoman for the New York medical examiner s office says that there were 31 heat related deaths in the city last summer and that is probably an under-estimate.
Special attention: The most vulnerable
The risk of severe illness and death from extreme heat exposure is highest among:
¢ Older adults, especially those over 65 years of age.
¢ Adults of all ages with chronic health conditions, especially:
History of heart disease or stroke;
Diabetes or severely obese;
Substance abuse and psychiatric disorders;
Chronic lung disease, emphysemea, asthma.
¢ Individuals living in high poverty neighborhoods, especially those without home air conditioning or who cannot afford to use it.
**Heat-related illness is preventable: Air conditioning is the most important way to protect those at-risk on hot days.
According to the New York City Office of Emergency Management, heat- related illnesses include: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. When the heat index is predicted to be dangerously high, New York City opens cooling centers in air-conditioned public community centers, senior centers, and public libraries to offer people relief from the heat.
Individuals who have no ready access to a cool environment, and particularly those at risk for heat-related illness, should use cooling centers during a heat wave in those communities where they are provided.
Quick Heat-Beating Tips
¢ Pay attention to weather reports and adjust daily routines accordingly. If possible, stay out of the sun.
¢ Use an air conditioner if you have one. Set the thermostat no lower than 78 degrees.
¢ If you do not have an air conditioner, keep rooms well-ventilated with open windows and fans. Consider going to a public pool, air-conditioned store, mall, movie theater, or cooling center.
¢ Fans work best at night, when they can bring in cooler air from outside.
¢ Make a special effort to check on your neighbors during a heat wave, especially if they are seniors, young children, and people with special needs. Many older folks live alone and could suffer unnecessarily in the heat because they are isolated from friends and family.
¢ Seniors and others who may be sensitive to extreme heat should contact friends, neighbors, or relatives at least twice a day during a heat wave.
¢ Drink fluids particularly water even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid beverages containing alcohol, caffeine, or high amounts of sugar.
¢ Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose clothing .
¢ Never leave children, pets, or those who require special care in a parked car during periods of intense summer heat.
¢ Avoid strenuous activity, especially during the sun s peak hours 11 AM to 4 PM. If you must engage in strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day.
¢ Cool showers or baths may be helpful, but avoid extreme temperature changes. Never take a shower immediately after becoming overheated extreme temperature changes may make you ill, nauseated, or dizzy.
¢ During heat emergencies, the City may open cooling centers. If cooling centers are open, call 311 (TTY: 212-504-4115) or locate a center online.
*People with heart, kidney or liver disease, or on fluid restricted diets should check with their doctors before increasing fluid intake.
Seek help if you feel symptoms of heat-related illness.
HEAT CRAMPS: Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms, usually in the leg or stomach muscles, resulting from heavy exertion during extreme heat. Heat cramps usually occur when the heat index is between 90 and 105 degrees. Although heat cramps are the least severe of all heat-related health problems, they are often the first signal that the body is having trouble coping with the heat and should be treated immediately with rest and fluids. Stretching, gentle massaging of the spasms, or direct, firm pressure on cramps can reduce pain. Seek medical attention if pain is severe or nausea occurs.
HEAT EXHAUSTION: Heat exhaustion occurs when body fluids are lost through heavy sweating due to vigorous exercise or working in a hot, humid place. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to vital organs to decrease. Symptoms include: sweating, pale and clammy skin, fatigue, headache, dizziness, shallow breaths, and a weak pulse.
Heat exhaustion should be treated with rest in a cool area, sipping water or electroyte solutions, applying cool and wet cloths, elevating the feet 12 inches, and further medical treatment in severe cases. If not treated, the victim's condition may escalate to heat stroke. If the victim does not respond to basic treatment, seek medical attention. Heat exhaustion usually occurs when the heat index is between 90 and 105 degrees.
HEAT STROKE: Heat stroke also called "sunstroke" occurs when the victim's temperature control system, which produces perspiration to cool the body, stops working. The skin is flushed, hot and dry, and body temperature may be elevated. In fact, body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. The victim may also be confused, develop seizures, breathe shallowly, and have a weak, rapid pulse.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and people exhibiting its symptoms should seek emergency medical attention. Heat stroke usually occurs when the heat index is 130 degrees or higher, but can occur when the heat index surpasses 105 degrees.
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