Heat waves kill. The 1995 Chicago heat wave killed almost 700 people and sent over 3,300 to the emergency room. The CDC Environmental Hazards and Health Effects Program gives us these 6 facts about how heat kills.
- It’s not just the heat. Humidity plays a large role in heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Humans cool themselves by perspiring so that the air dries the moisture and, thus, cools us down. In high humidity, perspiration can’t do its job. When desert dwellers say, “it’s a dry heat”, they’re telling you why their high temperatures might be more bearable than a lower temperature in a humid climate.
- Nighttime counts, too. We have a rhythm to our lives. We wake up; we sleep. And, there is a rhythm to our days and nights. At night, the sun goes down and the temperatures cool. When nighttime temperatures stay high, we don’t get that cooling during a heat wave, there is an increase in deaths.
- What happens when we overheat? Think of your car’s temperature gauge. If your car gets overheated and you continue to drive, you’ve got a real problem. The same is true of your body. The first signs of heat exhaustion may be cramps and heat rash. The skin may become red and dry. If something isn’t done to cool the person, it may become heat stroke. Perspiration shuts down and body temperature increases rapidly. Mental confusion, vomiting, fainting and seizures are all signs of heat stroke. Medical attention should be sought immediately and efforts to cool the person by putting cool cloths on them, moving them to the shade, and removing any unnecessary clothing should start right away.
- There may be lasting health problems after heat stroke. In the Chicago heat wave, 58 patients were admitted to ICU for heat stroke. One year later, 33% of those hospitalized still showed moderate to severe functional problems.
- Who is most vulnerable? The elderly are the most vulnerable. If they do not have proper cooling in their homes, they are at risk in any heat wave. In modern society, the elderly are often more isolated – living on their own instead of with family members.
- Have we evolved to cope with heat? The human body may not have found its own solution, but the CDC notes that society has. Thanks to Willis Carrier, society has air conditioning. CDC says access to air conditioning is the “number-one factor that ameliorates death from heat”.
You may live in a climate where your air conditioner runs 24/7 in the summer months or you may live somewhere where you only use it occasionally. Keep it in good shape – it could become more than a convenience and turn into a life-saving device. Have yearly air conditioning maintenance by an air conditioning contractor – they’re your expert. If suspect a problem, call for air conditioning repair. It will help keep you cool and may save you a larger bill later. Most importantly, if you have A/C and know of someone who doesn’t and your area is experiencing a high heat emergency, invite them over and cool them off!