Preventing Heat-related Illness: When the Heat is Too Hot to Handle

Kids and the elderly are at highest risk for heat related illnesses.

How hot is it? It’s so hot that your antiperspirant is on strike. Your clothes stick to you. The air conditioner and water cooler are your best friends.

With hot summer weather, you probably feel lethargic and sweaty, but still cope. Yet, when a heat wave hits, it’s harder to cool off.

Overheating is a serious danger, and soaring temperatures take their toll.

Who’s at risk?
Anyone can suffer from heat-related illness. Young and old are at the greatest risk. This includes infants and children up to 4 years of age and people 65 years of age and older. Also at risk are those who are overweight, and people who are ill or on certain medications.

The bottom line is this: Prolonged exposure to high temperatures or problems with your your body’s cooling system raises your risk for a heat-related illness such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

How our natural cooling system works
Normally, heat escapes through the skin as sweat is evaporated (perspiration). This helps cool the skin, and more importantly, the body core. But in humid weather, sweating doesn’t work as well. The air around you is already warm and heavy with humidity. It can’t absorb extra heat and sweat from your body. So your body warms up. When your body can’t compensate for the heat, you may suffer a heat-related illness.

Tips to stay cool in extreme heat

  • Take it easy. Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.
  • Stay indoors. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor, out of direct sunlight. Try to go to a public building with air conditioning each day for several hours. Open windows at night.
  • Dress light and loose. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect the sun’s energy. Natural fibers like cotton may help you feel more comfortable.
  • Hydrate. Drink plenty of water regularly and often, even if you do not feel thirsty. Water is the safest liquid to drink during heat emergencies. Avoid drinks with alcohol, caffeine and sugar. Make sure your pets get plenty of fresh water as well.
  • Eat light but often. Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increase metabolic heat.
  • Check the heat index chart. Knowing the temperature alone is not enough. The heat index gives you the temperature of what it “feels like” by taking into account both temperature and humidity.
  • Ease into it. If you are not accustomed to warm weather, let your body acclimatize to the new environment over several days.
  • Take a cool bath or shower. This will help cool your body.

 

 

© UnitedHealthcare

The Dangers of Secondhand Smoking

Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is commonly called secondhand smoke. Smoke from the burning end of cigarettes, pipes or cigars and smoke exhaled from smokers contains more than 4,000 substances, more than 40 of which are known to cause cancer in humans and animals. It is classified as a Group A carcinogen by the EPA, a rating used for substances proven to cause cancer in humans. (Group A carcinogens also include radon and asbestos.)

Exposure to secondhand smoke, also called involuntary smoking or passive smoking, is concentrated indoors where ETS is often the most significant pollutant. Indoor levels of the particles you may inhale (the “tars” in the cigarettes) from ETS often exceed the national air quality standard established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for outdoor air.

According to the American Cancer Society, ETS causes about 3,400 lung cancer deaths and about 46,000 deaths from heart disease each year in healthy nonsmokers who live with smokers. Nonsmokers living in the household are also more likely to get asthma and other respiratory problems, eye irritation and headaches.

Special risks for infants, children and pregnant women

Infants and young children whose parents smoke are among the most seriously affected by exposure to secondhand smoke. They are more likely to suffer from asthma pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections, coughing, wheezing, and increased mucus production.

In infants and children under 18 months of age, secondhand smoke is responsible for 150,000 to 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections, according to the American Lung Association (ALA). This results in 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations in that age group each year.

Babies living with parents who smoke also have a greater chance of dying of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The ALA estimates that secondhand smoke causes 1,900 to 2,700 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths in the U.S. annually.

Pregnant women exposed to passive smoke are more likely to have babies with lower birth weights.

Minimizing exposure to secondhand smoke

  • Don’t smoke in your home or permit others to do so.
  • If a family member smokes indoors, increase ventilation in the area by opening windows or using exhaust fans.

 

 

© UnitedHealthcare