Just recently, the Central Valley experienced record or near-record high temperatures. It is difficult to forecast the long term weather pattern this summer, but there are certainly indicators that we are in for some very hot days that may actually pose health hazards if people are not careful. As I once saw in a movie, it looks like it will be "a long, hot summer."
People who have lived in this valley for a long time know how hot summers can be here, and most know what to do to guard against heat stroke and heat exhaustion. The problem is that these heat injuries have a rapid onset without warning and before a victim realizes it, they are overcome with the heat. Heat-related injuries are common and while most just make a person very sick, it is also possible to suffer permanent brain and other organ damage, or even death. I know from my own experience that when laboring in very hot weather, the task at hand serves as a distraction and I do not necessarily pay attention to the potential threats to my health. In fact, I have suffered heat exhaustion and knew of it only when I suddenly became very weak, my heart raced, and I had an extremely severe headache. It took almost 24 hours before I felt normal again.
Many people use the terms "heat stroke" and "heat exhaustion" interchangeably, when in fact, the two are very different in nature and in terms of their level of threat to a person's life. Heat stroke is when a person's body is unable to cool down. With heat stroke, body temperature can reach 106 degrees or higher within minutes and cause death or permanent disability. Heat exhaustion involves heavy sweating, dizziness, muscle cramps, change in complexion, nausea, clammy skin, higher body temperature, and fast, shallow breathing.
The treatment for heat stroke is different from heat exhaustion, with heat stroke requiring professional emergency care. If you suspect heat stroke, do not delay in calling 9-1-1 for immediate assistance to minimize the risk of death or damage to internal organs.The patient should be kept in a cool place and efforts to reduce body temperature should be taken such as fanning, placing ice bags in blood-rich areas of the body or placing the person in a bathtub of cool water. The patient will also require fluids.
Heat exhaustion is not as life-threatening as heat stroke, but still requires the victim to be cooled off, given fluids (definitely nothing with alcohol in it!) and rest out of the sun. And while heat exhaustion is a milder illness, it can be the first step towards heat stroke, so it is important to stop its progress with quick action.
Pet owners should also be aware that dogs, cats and other domestic animals can be vulnerable to excessive heat. Try not to forget to ensure that your pets will stay comfortable when you leave them in the house. In particular, pets can suffer (or die) when left in a vehicle, even when for just a few minutes.
It is also good to check on elderly residents in your neighborhood to make sure they are okay. And in general terms, during hot weather when there is no air conditioning and indoor temperatures are consistently above 90 degrees, you should consider that as a threat to your health. If you can find a place to stay that is cooler, do so. Also, people who use medications would be well-advised to consult with their doctor to determine if they might have any special considerations to be aware of when it comes to the heat. Always be sure to drink plenty of water, eat lighter meals and avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks.