5 reasons why hot weather raises health alarms

Hot weather isn’t just uncomfortable – it can be dangerous. When temperatures are very hot in King County, we see a rise in the number of hospitalizations, Emergency Medical Service calls, and most sadly, deaths. And it’s not just heat stroke and heat exhaustion: heart problems, stroke, and kidney failure are common health problems on hot days. Our colleagues at the University of Washington have been tracking who has been admitted to hospitals for heat illnesses and have helped us understand why heat is such a health hazard.

1) Certain medications and chronic health conditions can make people more sensitive to heat. Health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, poor circulation, and obesity can make it harder for your body to cool down. In addition, certain medications can make you more sensitive to heat or affect your hydration level, such as those for Parkinson’s disease, depression, psychosis, allergies, and thyroid disorders.8 Certain medications

What to do:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your health and whether your medications put you at greater risk for heat illnesses.
  • Drink plenty of liquids, even if you aren’t thirsty, especially if you take medication that affects hydration levels. If you have heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease or are on fluid restriction, check with your doctor about how much water to drink.
  • If you know someone who has a chronic health condition, check to make sure they are OK on hot days, especially if they are elderly.

2) Most of our housing isn’t built for heat. Most homes in King County don’t have air conditioning and some people may have safety concerns about keeping windows open.

What to do:18 Try to go somewhere

3) People who work (or play sports, or live) outside have greater exposure and higher risk. Even young and healthy people can suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke if they do strenuous activity outdoors when it’s hot.

What to do:14 People who work outside

  • If possible, avoid or reduce physical activity during the hottest part of the day.
  • Have a beverage with you at all times, and sip or drink frequently.
  • Take frequent breaks to cool off and stay in the shade as much as possible.
  • If you see someone who appears passed out in hot weather, do not assume they are just sleeping or intoxicated. Ask if they are OK and if they cannot respond, call 9-1-1.

4) Children (and pets) can’t regulate heat like adults. Children’s sweat glands are still developing, so it takes them longer to start cooling. They also tend not to drink anything until they’re thirsty (when they may already be dehydrated) and like to play outdoors, even in the heat.

What to do:13 NEVER leave babies

  • NEVER leave babies, young children or pets in a parked car, not even for a minute, even with the window rolled down. Cars get dangerously hot in seconds!
  • Make sure kids drink water frequently on hot days.
  • Keep children out of the direct sun during the hottest part of the day (shade is OK).

5) Many people in the high risk groups don’t know they’re at risk. Even people who are healthy and strong can have heat exhaustion and heat stroke, like athletes or people used to working outdoors. People who are 65 years or older are also at higher risk for heat illness, even if they are healthy and active.

What to do:10 Check on family

Please share this information with anyone you know who could be at risk! Stay safe in the heat!

For more information: www.kingcounty.gov/BeatTheHeat

Originally posted on August 1, 2017.

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I am a risk communications specialist at Public Health - Seattle & King County.

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