Each summer, millions of residents and tourists enjoy the warm weather and sunny beaches, but most are unaware of just how hot it can get in Florida. We are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and our state is always influenced by tropical moisture- especially in the summer.
The heat index is the “APPARENT TEMPERATURE” that describes the combined effect of high air temperature and high humidity. The higher this combination, the more difficult it is for the body to cool itself. If you work outdoors, it is critical that you remain aware of the heat index and take the appropriate precautions.
As the heat index rises, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of heat related illnesses and tips to stay safe.
Fatigue and dehydration
Extreme heat causes your body to burn more energy and use more water in order to regulate your core body temperature. As a result, it is possible to feel tired more easily in the heat and to experience symptoms that indicate your body is in need of more water to maintain core functions.
Symptoms can include:
- Extreme thirst
- Dry mouth or tongue
- Infrequent urination and darker colored urine
- Feeling tired
- Confusion or dizziness
- Swollen feet
As heat diminishes your body’s water and nutrient reserves, your muscles may begin to contract or spasm involuntarily without relaxing, especially if you are active outdoors. This cramping is one of the mildest forms of heat illness and can be a good indicator that it’s time to take preventative action.
During prolonged exposure to heat your body begins losing the ability to regulate its core temperature. The early stages of this process is known as heat exhaustion. If you think you are experiencing heat exhaustion, it is important to take steps to cool your body to avoid heat stroke.
Once your core body temperature exceeds 103°F (39.5°C) you will experience heat stroke, which is the most severe form of heat-related illness. If someone you know is experiencing heat stroke get them to a shaded or cool area immediately and call 911 for emergency medical treatment. Do not give a heat stroke victim water, as there is a risk they will be unable to swallow and that water may enter the lungs.
Preventing heat-related illnesses comes down to mitigating water loss, replacing nutrients, and reducing the amount of work your body has to do to regulate your core temperature.
Take the steps below to prevent or treat heat-related illnesses and to protect yourself, your family and pets from extreme heat.
- NEVER LEAVE CHILDREN OR PETS IN A PARKED CAR: The temperature can raise to 135 degrees in less than ten minutes, which can cause death to children or pets. If you see a child or pet left unattended in a parked car, you should call 9-1-1 and alert authorities. It is NEVER safe to leave a child, disabled person or pet locked in a car, even in the winter. If you have a toddler in your household, lock your cars, even in your own driveway. Kids play in cars or wander outside and get into a car and can die in 10 minutes! A reported 25 children died in hot cars in 2020.
- SLOW DOWN. Strenuous activities should be reduced, eliminated, or rescheduled to the coolest time of the day. Individuals at risk should stay in the coolest available place, not necessarily indoors.
- DRESS FOR SUMMER. Lightweight, light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and helps your body maintain normal temperatures. Loose fitting clothing allows your body to release excess heat and moisture.
- DRINK PLENTY OF WATER. Drink plenty of fluids even if you don’t feel thirsty. Persons who (1) have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or liver disease, (2) are on fluid restrictive diets, or (3) have a problem with fluid retention should consult a physician before increasing their consumption of fluids. By drinking water or electrolyte-rich sports drinks, you can replace water and nutrients lost through sweat.
- DON’T DRINK ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES.
- DON’T TAKE SALT TABLETS UNLESS SPECIFIED BY A PHYSICIAN. Persons on salt restrictive diets should consult a physician before increasing their salt intake.
- SPEND MORE TIME IN AIR-CONDITIONED PLACES. Air conditioning in homes and other buildings markedly reduces danger from the heat. If you cannot afford an air conditioner, spending some time each day (during hot weather) in an air conditioned environment affords some protection. You can also put reflective coverings on your windows to reflect sunlight that would otherwise warm your home. Avoid paved areas like parking lots and sidewalks as these surfaces absorb heat and release it very slowly, eventually becoming much hotter than the air above. At just 85°F outside, concrete can get to 105°F and asphalt 130°F. Pets and children can easily get burned by paved surfaces on hot days.
- DON’T GET TOO MUCH SUN. Sunburn makes the job of heat dissipation that much more difficult. Avoid direct exposure to sunlight by staying in the shade or wearing a hat that provide ample coverage from the sun.