Heat and humidity: a dangerous combination
As heat and humidity rose to dangerous levels last week, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) urged Missourians of all ages to take precautions while these conditions last.
While heat-related illnesses often affect the very young, the elderly and the chronically ill, summer temperatures also take a toll on healthy young and middle-aged adults. DHSS reported 18 people died from heat exposure in Missouri in 2021, ranging in age from 35-105 years. Half of the deaths occurred among those between the ages of 35-64.
“Heat and humidity can place a lot of stress on the body,” said DHSS Acting Director Paula Nickelson. “Heat exhaustion can come on suddenly, with little warning, and lead to heatstroke which becomes a very dangerous situation.”
During prolonged periods of high temperatures, the best preventive measure is using air conditioning – either at home or at a local cooling center.
Checking on friends and neighbors, especially those who are at higher risk, is also important. Some medications may impair response to heat, increasing vulnerability. You can report a senior citizen or disabled adult who is need of assistance due to the heat at the state’s toll-free abuse and neglect hotline – 1-800-392-0210, or an online report can be made at https://health.mo.gov/safety/abuse/.
DHSS recommends several steps to keep cool, including:
- Wear appropriate clothing – wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
- Stay cool indoors – stay in air-conditioned places as much as possible. Find a local cooling center.
- Stay hydrated – drink plenty of fluids regardless of your activity level, and do not wait to until you are thirsty. Avoid sugary and alcoholic beverages; these actually cause you to lose body fluids.
- Schedule outdoor activities carefully – try to plan outdoor activity for morning or evening hours when the temperature is coolest.
- Pace yourself – reduce exercise or physical activity during the hottest part of the day, and take frequent breaks in the shade or in an air-conditioned place.
- Wear sunscreen – sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool down and can make you dehydrated.
- Prepare your home – change air conditioner filters, cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes or shades, and make sure you have portable fans if necessary.
According to DHSS, signs of heat exhaustion may include:
- Muscle cramps;
- Heavy sweating;
- Cold, pale and clammy skin;
- Nausea or vomiting; and,
- Fainting or passing out.
If you think you or a loved one is experiencing heat exhaustion, you should stop physical activity, move to a cool place – preferably air-conditioned, loosen clothing and sip cool water. Seek medical attention immediately if you are throwing up, your symptoms get worse or symptoms last longer than one hour.
Signs of heat stroke, per DHSS, may include:
- High body temperature (103°F or higher);
- Hot, red, dry or damp skin;
- Fast, strong pulse;
- Confusion; or,
- Loss of consciousness.
DHSS advises that if you think you or a loved one is experiencing heat stroke, you should call 911 immediately. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Move the person to a cool place – preferably air-conditioned. Help lower the person’s body temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath until medical personnel arrive. Do not give the person anything to drink.
More information regarding heat-related illness and prevention is available at the websites of DHSS or the CDC.