You may be one of those people that love the seasonal hot, humid weather but the extreme heat can potentially be fatal. Heat related deaths can kill more people in a year than floods, lighting, hurricanes and tornados combined. This make hot weather a top weather killer. In North America summer seasonal temperatures are hot, combining both high temperatures and high humidity in many areas which can have a detrimental effect on your health.
What are Seasonal Illnesses and What Causes Them?
When you’re exposed to high temperatures for extended periods of time, you can develop heat exhaustion, heat cramps and/or heat stroke. Your body tries to cool itself during extreme hot weather and in the process blood will rush to the surface of the skin. This decreases the amount of blood that will be circulated to your brain, muscles and vital organs. This can lead to decreased physical and mental performance which can put you at risk of serious injury. Heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke all occur when your body is unable to cool itself properly. Heat Exhaustion happens when your body loses excessive amounts of water and salt due to profuse sweating. This loss of fluid can cause circulation problems and interfere with brain activity. Heat cramps can occur when the body loses water and salt in addition to potassium or magnesium. Lastly, heat stroke occurs when you are exposed to prolonged, excessive heat and your body is unable to cool itself. During prolong heat exposure your brain’s mechanism for cooling the body essentially fails. Because of this failure, you won’t sweat and your body will overheat. The good news is that people who suffer from heat-related illness can recover if treated promptly. Conversely, without proper treatment, heat stroke can result in death.
Symptoms of heat related illness includes: headache, cramps, rapid pulse, heavy sweating, dizziness, confusion, nausea and/or vomiting. It is essential to seek treatment immediately if you notice any of these symptoms. Treatment involves getting out of the heat, sipping on water, and placing cold packs on your body to decrease body temperature.
Extremely high seasonal temperatures can have a negative effect on anyone, but people with a weakened immune system are at the highest risk. The elderly, children, and individuals with chronic conditions may have a compromised immune system and are at a greater risk of heat-related illnesses. Additionally, individuals taking medications may be more susceptible to heat related illness as some medication can intensify the effects of seasonal high heat.
Seasonal Weather Changes and Lung Function
Seasonal changes can negatively affect individuals who chronic medical conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). People who suffer from COPD already have decreased lung function and seasonal weather changes that result in extreme hot weather can further impair lung function and trigger a serious respiratory event.
Allergies and asthma attacks can also be triggered by hot humid weather. In humid weather, pollen and mold levels both increase which can trigger an immune system response. This immune system response can trigger an asthmatic attack, which may be severe and even fatal.
For individuals suffering from diseases which impair lung function, it is important to stay in cool, air-conditioned environments to avoid exposure to extreme hot weather.
Protecting Yourself from Hot Seasonal Weather
Every year, the summer months will bring high seasonal temperatures and it is important to take steps to minimize your risk of suffering a heat-related illness that could potentially be fatal. It is especially important to take precautions in hot weather if you have a weakened immune system or have a condition which impairs your lung function. In an effort to prevent heat-related illnesses and death, take the following steps:
- Stay in a cool, air-conditioned space whenever possible
- Stay hydrated
- Wear loose, light coloured clothing
- Wear sunscreen to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays
- Stay in the shade when outdoors
- Do not over-exert yourself outdoors
- Do not leave children or the elderly in cars that can over-heat very quickly
- Seek medical attention immediately if you start to notice symptoms of heat-related illness