News·4 min read

How to Avoid Common Heat-Related Illnesses When Climate Change Keeps Bringing the Heat

Woman standing outside in heat
iStockphoto
Jul 20, 2022

It’s getting hot out herre. On July 19, temperatures in the UK hit an all-time high of 104.4 F. Officials issued the first-ever red warning for extreme heat in England. And temps reached dangerous highs in Spain and France, fueling wildfires. In the US, more than 100 million people have been impacted by high temps. All of which has scientists pointing fingers at climate change.

Now, environmental experts are ringing the alarm about heat-related illnesses. Because this hot weather can be deadly. Especially for low-income families, people of color, and the elderly. And with the World Meteorological Org calling heat waves the “new normal,” knowing what to look out for and how to stay cool are a must.

Common heat-related illnesses to look out for

Sunburns happen when the body is exposed to UV radiation (think: from the sun or artificial light like tanning beds) for too long without protection. Chances are you've experienced this before. But reminder that your skin will turn red, burn, and be painful to touch. For relief…

  • Stay out of the sun until your sunburn heals

  • Put a chilled cloth or lotion on the area

  • Use broad spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPF next time you go out, and apply every two hours — or more if you’re swimming and sweating  

Heat rash happens when blocked pores trap dirt and sweat under the skin. It shows up as a cluster of small, red pimples, blisters, or deep lumps on the neck, chest, elbow, or groin. If you get a heat rash…

  • Put some baby powder on the affected area (avoid lotion)

  • Keep the area dry

Heat cramps mostly affect people who sweat a lot. The loss of water and salt (usually from intense exercise in hot temperatures) leads to cramps or pain in the abdomen, arms, and legs. These cramps can also be a symptom of heat exhaustion (more on that below). If you think you’re suffering from heat cramps, here’s what you can do, according to the CDC

  • Drink water and have a snack every 15 to 20 minutes

  • Avoid salt 

  • Call a medical professional if you have a heart problem, are on a low-sodium diet, or if the cramps don’t go away after an hour

Heat exhaustion happens when your body loses a large amount of water and salt. People who work in hot conditions (like farmers or construction workers) are more likely to be diagnosed with heat exhaustion since they sweat more throughout the day. Watch out for headache or dizziness, nausea, and extreme thirst. The CDC recommends that anyone showing these signs monitor their symptoms. And if you still don’t feel better after an hour…

  • Take off any extra layers (like socks, shoes, and hats)

  • Use a cold compress on your body

  • Drink cold water 

  • Go to the emergency room 

Heat stroke is the most serious. And happens when your body overheats, usually because you’ve been in the sun for a long period of time. You’re more at risk if you’re over 65, live with chronic illness, or have a weakened immune system. If you’re experiencing a heat stroke, you might faint or have slurred speech, confusion, seizures, and hot skin. And if not taken care of, it can be deadly. If you or someone you know is experiencing heat stroke…

  • Call 911

  • Move the person to a shaded, cool area

  • Encourage them to remove layers of clothing

  • Cool the person with cold water or air circulation (like a fan or air conditioning)

Tips on how to stay safe and cool this summer

Given how much harm prolonged heat exposure can cause, it may not be a bad idea to lay low when temps get high. Here are some ways you can cool off:

  • Avoid high impact outdoor activities like running or sports. Or try to plan and do them when temperatures are lower — like early in the morning or at night. 

  • Take advantage of air-conditioning as much as you can. If you don’t have AC, then crank up the fans, grab an ice pack, or take a cold shower.

  • Fill up that water bottle. Hydration is key to avoiding heat-related illnesses. While it may be tempting to grab that frozen marg, make sure you have water along with it.

  • Don’t forget your pets. Make sure they have plenty of water and a cool place to rest throughout the day.

  • Wear sunscreen. Even if it doesn’t seem that hot outside, sunscreen is critical to avoiding sunburns and skin cancer. 

theSkimm 

The Earth's thermostat is all the way up this summer — and may continue to rise with summers to come. (Think: another effect of human-caused climate change.) Now, it's more important than ever to know the signs of heat-related illnesses and to stay cool to protect your health.

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