Heat kills by pushing the human body beyond its limits. In extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. Many Canadians succumb to the demands of summer heat every year.
Most heat disorders occur because the victim has been overexposed to heat or has over-exercised for his or her age and physical condition. Older adults, young children and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to succumb to extreme heat.
Conditions that can induce heat-related illnesses include stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality. Consequently, people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than those living in rural areas. Asphalt and concrete store heat longer and gradually release heat at night, which can produce higher nighttime temperatures; this is known as the “urban heat island effect.”
A heat wave is an extended period of extreme heat, and is often accompanied by high humidity. These conditions can be dangerous and even life-threatening for people who don’t take the proper precautions.
Before Extreme Heat
To prepare for extreme heat, you should do the following:
- Build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
- Install window air conditioners; make sure they fit snugly, and insulate them if necessary.
- Check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation.
- Install temporary window reflectors (for use between windows and drapes), such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard, to reflect heat back outside.
- Weather-strip doors and sills to keep cool air in.
- Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, awnings or louvers. (Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat that enters a home by up to 80 per cent.)
- Keep storm windows up all year.
- Listen to local weather forecasts so you can be aware of upcoming temperature changes.
- Know those in your neighbourhood who are elderly, young, sick or overweight. They are more likely to become victims of excessive heat and may need help.
- Be aware that people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than people living in rural areas.
- Get trained in first aid to learn how to treat heat-related emergencies.
During Extreme Heat
What you should do if the weather is extremely hot:
- Listen to Weatheradio for critical updates on the weather.
- Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.
- Stay indoors as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun.
- Stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine if air conditioning is not available.
- Postpone outdoor games and activities.
- Consider spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings such as libraries, schools, movie theatres, shopping malls and other community facilities. Circulating air can cool the body by increasing the evaporation rate of perspiration.
- Eat well-balanced, light and regular meals. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
- Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine. People who have epilepsy or heart, kidney or liver disease, who are on fluid-restricted diets or who have a problem with fluid retention should consult a doctor before increasing liquid intake.
- Limit intake of alcoholic beverages.
- Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight and light-coloured clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Avoid dark colours, because they absorb the sun’s rays.
- Protect your face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
- Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day. Use a buddy system when working in extreme heat, and take frequent breaks.
- Check on family, friends and neighbours who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time alone.
- Avoid extreme temperature changes.
- Check on your animals frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat. Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power during periods of extreme heat.
Know the Terms
Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify an extreme heat hazard:
- Heat wave – Prolonged period of excessive heat, often combined with excessive humidity.
- Heat index – A number in degrees Celsius (c) that tells how hot it feels when relative humidity is added to the air temperature. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 8 degrees.
- Heat cramps – Muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. Although heat cramps are the least severe heat-related illness, they are often the first signal that your body is having trouble with the heat.
- Heat exhaustion – Typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a hot, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim’s condition will worsen. Body temperature will keep rising and the victim may suffer heat stroke.
- Heat stroke – A life-threatening condition. The victim’s temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. Body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly.
- Sun stroke – Another term for heat stroke.
- Excessive heat watch – Conditions are favourable for an excessive heat event to meet or exceed local excessive heat warning criteria in the next 24 to 72 hours.