Severe heat and humidity have been gripping parts of the nation for the past month. In Iowa, heat indexes have continually surpassed 100 °F and, in some communities, reached 131 °F. High temperatures inhibit the body from maintaining normal temperatures, which can result in numerous illnesses ranging in severity.
The heat index provides information about how hot it feels outside in the shade. It is a measure of air temperature and relative humidity. The National Weather Service alerts people of daily heat index through the news.
A head index of:
- 90°F to 104°F can cause fatigue
- 105°F to 129°F is likely to cause heat cramps or heat exhaustion and heatstroke is possible
- 130°F or higher is likely to cause heatstroke
Heat-related illnesses include heat rash, heat cramps, swelling, fainting, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Of these, heatstroke is the most serious. Heatstroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its own temperature causing body temperature to continually rise.
"If someone is not doing well with inability to sweat, urinate or is having confusion and weakness, call 911. Heatstroke is a medical emergency and needs immediate treatment,” says McFarland Clinic Family Medicine Physician Ryan Grandgenett, MD.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths. Dealing with extreme heat can be difficult, but taking precautions can help prevent deaths and other heat-related illnesses.
“On hot days wear light-colored clothing that reflects the sun. If you have to work outside, start early or work in the evenings to avoid peak heat times from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” says Dr. Grandgenett.
High temperatures combined with dehydration or fatigue can make symptoms worse. Avoid dehydration by frequently drinking fluids, primarily water. Beverages containing caffeine and alcohol can cause you to dehydrate faster. Rehydration drinks that contain electrolytes, like Gatorade®, can help replace fluids lost after strenuous activities.
“Staying cool is important to preventing heat-related illnesses. Use water to cool yourself down or get out of the sun in cool shade or inside with air conditioning,” says Dr. Grandgenett.
To learn more about heat-related illnesses, check out the following articles on our online health library: