When temperatures and heat indexes reach critical levels, the NOAA National Weather Service often issues a warning. The warning typically focuses on children, older adults, and pets, but everyone in the area where the heat warning is issued is at risk for heat related disorders. The most common heat related disorders include sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death.
Sunburn occurs when UV rays burn the uppermost layer of skin. Sunscreen with SPF protection can help prevent sunburn, but will not stop UV rays from affecting skin 100%. When heat warnings are in effect, the risk of sunburn is far greater. The sun reaches its most potent levels between 10 A.M. and 3 P.M. though heat may last far into the evening.
There are several stages of sunburn ranging from mild to severe. Mild and moderate cases can be treated with ointments and aloe, but more severe cases may need medical attention. Sunburn, when severe enough, can have the same effect on the skin as a burn from a fire.
Heat cramps occur when the body becomes dehydrated after spending time in the sun. If heat cramps occur, it is best to apply pressure to the cramping area and offer water. Nausea can be a secondary symptom of heat cramps. If nausea occurs, limit water intake and move the affected person indoors immediately. Vomiting can be a sign of severe heat exhaustion and medical attention should be sought.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include profuse sweating, weakness, and thread pulse. Anyone suffering from heat exhaustion needs to be moved to an air conditioned room or shaded area quickly. Cold compresses, fanning, and water should be used to reduce body heat. Medical attention may be needed if the condition is severe or vomiting occurs.
Heat stroke is one of the most dangerous heat related disorders. Heat stroke can lead to death without proper medical attention. With an internal body temperature of 106 degrees or higher, brain damage, unconsciousness, and death can result from heat stroke.
Death is the most severe side effect of heat related disorders. The body has the ability to control heat, but when temperatures or heat indexes reach extraordinary levels, sweating may not be sufficient to lower body temperatures to healthy levels.
Understanding the most common heat related disorders is important to maintaining safety in the sun. Whenever possible, check with the NOAA National Weather Service for possible heat warnings in your area before planning a trip for the day. There is no specific area of the United States off limits when it comes to extraordinary heat. From Chicago to Atlanta – heat related disorders have caused deaths.