The Midwest is in the middle of an unprecedented heatwave, with temperatures rising as high as 115 degrees in some areas.  At least 40 states will reach temperatures of more than 90 degrees this week, with Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and North and South Dakota especially affected.  The heatwave is expected to reach the East Coast by Wednesday, with Washington, D.C. predicted to break 100 degrees.

Excessive heat for extended periods of time can be very dangerous for people of all ages, particularly the elderly, young children and those in poor health.  Dehydration is common in hot weather, particularly after spending time outdoors.  Symptoms of dehydration include headache, dizziness, reduced urine output and low blood pressure.  While in most cases dehydration can be relieved and avoided by drinking plenty of water, if left untreated it may lead to fainting or seizures.

Another complication is heat exhaustion, which is due to a fluid and salt imbalance in the body.  Some symptoms of heat exhaustion are excessive perspiration, rapid breathing and an accelerated, weak pulse.  If the internal body temperature reaches more than 104 degrees, this is what’s known as heat stroke, with symptoms such as difficulty breathing, disorientation and seizures.  Heat stroke requires immediate medical treatment.

The risk of heat-related illnesses can be lowered by avoiding outdoor physical activity on particularly hot days.  Exercise should be limited to early in the morning or after sundown.  If physical activity cannot be avoided, be sure to drink water often and take the same measures one would take to avoid sunburn, such as wearing a hat, sunglasses and light, loose-fitting clothing.  As high levels of humidity can create poor air quality, it’s recommended that people with asthma or COPD stay indoors as much as possible.  Children playing outdoors should be encouraged to practice sun and heat safety, and recognize when they need a break to cool off.  And don’t forget the family pet–it’s a good idea to keep dogs and cats indoors on days when temperatures reach the 90s or higher, and give them lots of water.

As elderly people are most often the victims of heat-related death, consider checking in on older relatives, neighbors and friends on hot days to make sure they’re safe.  Encourage them to stay at home and use air conditioners or fans to keep cool.  Senior citizens on a fixed income may worry about the expense of using air conditioners–let them know it does not use a large amount of power and will not significantly increase their monthly electric bill.

Though it may not feel like it right now, this latest heatwave will pass eventually.  Be safe, stay cool and we can all get through it unharmed!

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

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