Heat is a major killer in the USA, and those at greatest risk are infants, children, seniors and people with chronic medical conditions.
Heat was responsible for more deaths in the USA than any other weather-related cause between 2002 and 2011, says the National Weather Service.
In that period, there were 1,185 heat deaths, compared with 1,139 hurricane deaths and 1,075 from tornadoes. June had a record number of high temperatures across the country, and more are predicted for July and August.
Knowing how to stay cool can be a life saver, says Jay Dempsey, of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves.
The body normally cools itself by sweating, but sometimes sweating isn't enough. In such cases, body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may cause heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and can damage the brain or other organs.
"We stress three things during heat waves," says Dempsey. "Staying cool, staying hydrated and staying informed. We also tell people not to rely on a fan to stay cool." He recommends checking on people at high risk at least twice a day.
The CDC offers these precautions in the heat:
- Find safe places: Air conditioning is the No. 1 protective factor. If you do not have it at home, spend time in shopping malls, movie theaters, libraries or public cooling centers. Cool baths or showers can also help lower body temperature.
- Stay hydrated: Increase fluid intake, regardless of activity level. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and drinks with high sugar content because they cause fluids to be depleted more rapidly. Sports drinks help replace minerals and salt lost in sweat. Don't wait until you're thirsty. During strenuous activities, drink 16 to 32 ounces of cool fluids each hour.
- Wear light, loose-fitting clothing: Avoid dark colors, which absorb heat, and 100% cotton, which gets drenched with sweat, adds extra weight and can contribute to a rising body temperature. Fabrics that wick away moisture are best.
- Reschedule exercise: Move your workout (or kids' playtimes) indoors or into the shade, preferably in the early morning or evening.
- Stay out of hot cars: Never leave a person or pet in a parked car. Even if a window is open a crack, it can heat up in seconds.
By Janice Lloyd USA TODAY