Heat stress: What you need to know
(Graphic: Illustrates average annual temperatures in Florida 1895-2018.)
Heat-related illnesses are rising in Florida due to increasing temperatures in recent years. High humidity increases the potential for heat-related illness because sweat stays on our skin longer, heating up, and basically stewing us alive.
The heat index predicts your risk
Temperature and humidity are used to calculate the Heat Index, or “how hot it feels”. When the heat index is over 102°F conditions are quite dangerous if you’re spending extended time outdoors, or doing strenuous activity.
Are you at higher risk of heat-related illness?
Medications– Medications that suppress thirst, dehydrate, or interfere with the body’s ability to regulate heat increase your risk of suffering a heat-related illness: antihistimines, decongestants, ADD/ADHD medications, antidepressants, overactive-bladder medications, heart medications, and psychotropic medications.
Medical conditions– Diabetes or cardiovascular disease increases your risk of heat-related illness. Heart attack rates also increase as temperature and heat index increase. Illnesses like a cold or flu increase your risk of a heat-related illness.
Physical factors– If you sweat a lot, you are at higher risk of dehydration, and heat-related illness. Being out of shape or overweight also increases your risk. Lack of sleep (decreases sweating), being under-hydrated, or drinking alcohol (even the night before) increase the likelihood of a heat-related illness.
Exposure– Occupations like agriculture field work, construction, landscaping, and pest management understandably have higher risk of heat-related illness, but even leisure activities like running, gardening, fishing, or golfing can be risky in high heat and humidity.
Recognize and respond
Heat-related illness charts can be misleading because it’s a landslide from one heat-related illness to another, and a fine line between a dangerous situation and a deadly one. Take any heat-related symptoms seriously, because you may not recognize where you are in the landslide. Getting cool and hydrated fast should always be the priority with any heat-related illness.
What your body does when it overheats: You become dehydrated, your body can’t cool itself. Your body overheats and can’t pump enough blood to your heart. As your body heats up more, your brain, heart, other organs, gut tissue, and muscles start to malfunction and break down. Permanent damage or death can occur if you don’t cool down fast.
You may experience any of these symptoms if you become overheated, but by the time you get to the last half of this list, your body is in big trouble and you’d better be getting medical help:
- Muscle spasms, pain
- Fast heart beat
- Weakness / Fatigue
- Light headedness / Dizziness
- Nausea / Vomiting
- Irritability / Confusion
- Irrational / Aggressive behavior
- Incoherent speech
If you experience any of the above:
- Tell someone you aren’t feeling well and ask them to stay with you while you recover
- Go inside an air-conditioned building or car if possible, in shade if not
- Drink water, or other cool beverages
- Loosen/remove clothing
- Cool down in the quickest way possible for the situation: Sit in a cold shower; pour water over yourself; apply ice/icepacks
Prevent heat-related illness
Heat-related illnesses are easily preventable, even if you have to be out in the heat.
- Drink (non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic) liquids frequently, before you’re thirsty.
- Wear loose, lightweight clothes. Tight clothes prevent sweat evaporation.
- Protect against sunburn. It dehydrates you.
- Never leave anyone in a parked car. Florida law allows vehicle entry to remove a vulnerable person/pet that is in imminent danger.
- Check the heat index forecast and avoid doing intense activity during the hottest parts of the day.
- If you must be active outdoors, get acclimated. Spend short periods of time in hot weather over a period of at least six days. If you start to feel bad, cool down and get hydrated. Don’t push yourself in the heat.
- Be cautious in the heat if you’re at increased risk.
For more information on safe and fun outdoor activities, contact UF IFAS Extension-Osceola: http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/osceola/ , 321-697-3000.