Editor’s note: A version of this story originally published in 2016.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 400 people die each year from exposure to excessive heat, and more die from health conditions that are worsened by exposure to excessive heat.
Understanding weather terms is essential to determining what precautions to take during a heat wave.
Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, a physician at South Lake Hospital in Clermont, Fla., said that the “heat index” is more important than the actual temperature because it takes humidity into account to determine how hot it actually feels like outside.
Avoid the heat
If air-conditioning isn’t available in your home, try going to a public building, such as a library.
Avoid strenuous exercise and or working in the heat, if you can, advises the American Red Cross. Those who must work outside should work in pairs and take breaks frequently.
Stay aware of yourself, family and friends
Check in with family, friends and neighbors to make sure they have proper air-conditioning or shelter, especially those who live alone or who are at higher risk for heat-related conditions.
Brahmbhatt said this is the perfect time to call and visit grandparents who often live alone. People above the age of 65 and below the age of 4 are at higher risk for heat-related conditions.
Eat and drink right
The American Red Cross advises to drink plenty of water, even when not thirsty. The organization also advises to eat smaller meals and eat more often throughout the day.
Avoid beverages with alcohol and caffeine. People on medication should be aware of its affects and check to see if they are at higher risk for heat-related conditions.
Wear proper attire
When we think of heat, we often think that wearing little clothing as possible will prevent overheating, but the Red Cross and Brahmbhatt suggest otherwise.
Covering the body with light and lightly colored clothing will help to prevent overheating and reduce the risks for skin cancer. Wide-brimmed hats and sunscreen are also advised.
Know the signs
Understanding the differences between heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke is essential.
Heat cramps are muscle pain and spasms in the legs and abdomen and can be an early sign of heat exhaustion. “You need to get them cool ASAP,” Brahmbhatt said.
If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition. Brahmbhatt said that while heat exhaustion can be treated by friends or close-by civilians, heat stroke requires emergency services.
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