Beat the heat

Summer sizzler: dangerous heat has much of North America sweating.

Just how hot is it? In Alberta, the heat wave has been so extreme that even the fish are dying in overheated streams.

As extreme heat alerts are being issued across North America, we’re reminded that more than our wildlife is at risk. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more North Americans die from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightening, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined.

The heat can make you sick when your body is no longer able to properly cool itself. Normally this is accomplished by sweating – but when the heat is so extreme, this may no longer be enough. High humidity can cause sweat to not evaporate as quickly, which prevents the body from releasing heat. When this happens a person’s body temperature may rise rapidly and can cause damage to the brain or other vital organs.

Old and young most at risk
While the old, the young and people with mental illness and chronic diseases are most at risk of heat-related illnesses or death, experts say that even the young and healthy can fall ill when overexerting themselves during hot weather.

What you need to know
Heat stroke occurs when the sweating mechanism fails, causing the body to rise rapidly. Body temperature may rise to 106°F (41C) or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

According to the CDC, warning signs of heat stroke include:
• An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F or 39C)
• Red, hot, and dry skin – with no sweating
• Rapid, strong pulse
• Throbbing headache
• Dizziness
• Nausea
• Confusion
• Unconsciousness

Any of these symptoms could indicate a life-threatening emergency and experts recommend you call for immediate medical assistance. Other steps you can take:
• Move the victim to a shady area.
• Cool the victim rapidly by placing him or her in a tub of cool water or in a cool shower. Alternately, you could spray cool water from a garden hose or sponge the person in cool water. If humidity is low, try wrapping the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
• Continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F (38.3 – 38.8 C).
• Do not give the victim fluids to drink.

Sometimes heat stroke can cause a person’s muscles to twitch uncontrollably. If this happens, keep the victim from injuring himself. If there is vomiting, make sure the airway remains open by turning the victim on his or her side.

Milder heat-related illnesses
Heat exhaustion can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, muscle cramping, dizziness and fainting. If heat exhaustion is not treated, it can lead to heat stroke.