By Stephanie Heckman, Red Cross Public Relations Intern
In the past few days, temperatures in parts of the country have reached over 100 degrees. Excessively hot and humid weather has killed more Americans than any other weather-related disaster. Heat waves are defined as extended periods of hot, humid weather that is 10 degrees higher than average for the time of year. Elderly populations are much at risk during hot weather, particularly if they lack access to air condition. Companion animals are also under much threat, as they become overheated easily and cannot ask for help.
Keep your family safe:
• Never leave children in vehicles, even for short amounts of time. A few minutes of intense heat can kill children and infants.
• Stay hydrated by drinking copious amounts of cold water. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks, including soda. Keep drinking water hourly, even if you do not feel thirsty.
• Wear weather-appropriate clothing that is loose, lightweight and light-colored.
• Stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, typically late morning to early evening.
• If you must work outside, always work with a friend and take frequent breaks.
• If experiencing a heat wave, postpone outdoor activities and exercise until temperatures cool.
• Check on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air-conditioning, particularly elderly individuals and anyone who lives alone. Seniors have the greatest risk of heat stroke.
• Listen to local weather forecasts and be aware of heat watches, warnings and advisories.
• Prepare for the possibility of power outages and always have an emergency kit on hand.
• If you see someone experience a heat cramp, move the person to a cooler place and have him or her lie back and massage the muscle. Give an electrolyte-containing drink or water.
• Beware of heat exhaustion signs, such as flushed, pale or moist skin, headache, nausea, dizziness and weakness. Move the person to a cooler environment, remove or loosen clothing, apply cool, wet cloths to skin and offer water. Call 911 if the person vomits or does not improve.
• Notice heat stroke signs, including high body temperatures, red skin, rapid or weak pulse, shallow breathing, confusion, vomiting and seizures. Call 911 immediately and try to cool off the person through immersion in cold water, sponging with ice-water or covering in bags of ice.
Keep animal companions safe:
• Never leave animals in the car, even for a few minutes with the windows cracked. The temperature inside of vehicles can easily reach over 120 degrees in a short period of time.
• Know the risk factors: Dogs with short snouts such as bulldogs, boxers and pugs are at a particularly high risk for heat stroke. Animals that are overweight, elderly, have thick or long coats or are prone to upper respiratory problems should be monitored in hot or humid weather.
• Know the signs: Animals developing heat stroke may engage in heavy panting, may appear frantic or are unable to stand up, and may be experiencing brick-red gums and a high pulse rate.
• Act quickly: If possible, take the animal’s temperature and beware of a body temperature of 105 or higher. Quickly cool the animal off with a hose or other source of cold water and then rush him or her to the nearest animal hospital. Heat stroke damage acts quickly and can harm organs.
• Prepare: Bring animals indoors during excessive heat and always provide fresh, cold water. Know what is normal for your companion – his or her body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate and gum color – so you can stay on the lookout for warning signs.
Stay prepared for all possible emergencies by keeping up to date with CPR, AED and First Aid training. Certifications must be updated every two years and classes can be taken at any time. For those who live with or work with animals, pet CPR and First Aid are particularly useful. The Red Cross store has numerous books and DVDs devoted to all types of First Aid training. Finally, download the First Aid app to your smartphone.