Extreme heat - General Information
Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States. National Weather Service data show that heat causes more deaths per year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined.
On this page:
- Tips for keeping cool
- Maine-specific heat information
- Heat-related illness
- Heat stroke
- Heat exhaustion
- Heat cramps
- Heat rash
- Power Outages and Energy Concerns
- Driving? Don't top off...w
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put together these hot tips for a cool summer, including information on air quality, travel and commuting, water, gardening, around the house, and resources for kids.
American Public Health Association Fact Sheet on Heat Waves,(PDF*) also En Spanish (PDF*)
Cooling off at a water park, lake, or pool? Check out these tips on healthy swimming.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition. Warning signs include hot, dry, red skin (no sweating), rapid pulse, high body temperature (≥ 105 F), headache, loss of alertness, confusion, rapid and shallow breathing, and unconsciousness or coma.
What to do: Call 911 immediately. While waiting for assistance, cool the person rapidly with such methods as moving them to a shady or cooler area; using cool water; applying ice to the head, neck, armpits, and groin area; fans; and loosening their clothing.
Symptoms include heavy sweating, fainting, vomiting, cold, pale, and clammy skin, dizziness, headache, nausea and weakness.
What to do: Move the person to a cool place, have them drink fluids and rest, loosen their clothes, and cool them off with water or wet cloths. Heat exhaustion can quickly lead to heat stroke. So, if symptoms worsen or do not improve, get medical help.
Muscle cramps in the abdominal area or extremities (e.g. arms and legs) that are often accompanied by heavy sweating and mild nausea.
What to do: Move the person to a cool place to rest, and apply firm pressure to the cramping muscle. The person can also gently stretch the cramped muscle and hold it for 20 seconds, and then gently massage it. Have the person drink some cool beverages such as water or a sports drink. The person should seek medical attention if there is no improvement or if the person has underlying medical problems.
Skin that is red, painful, and warm after sun exposure.
What to do: Medical attention should be sought if the sunburn affects an infant or if there is fever, fluid-filled blisters, or severe pain. Otherwise, the person should avoid sun exposure, apply cold compresses or immerse the burned skin in cool water, apply moisturizing lotion to the burn.
A skin irritation that is most common in young children. The rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters and is most common in the neck and upper chest and in creases such as in the elbow and groin.
What to do: Move the person to a cooler place and keep the affected area dry. The person can also use talcum powder to increase comfort.
Dehydration is caused by the excessive loss of water and salts from the body due to illness or from prolonged exposure to heat. Severe dehydration can easily become a life-threatening condition for infants and the elderly. Signs of dehydration include thirst, dry skin, fatigue, light headedness, confusion, dry mouth, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and less frequent urination.
What to do: Move the person to a cool and dry place. Have the person lie down and rest. Have the person drink water, juice, or sports drinks. Monitor the person – especially children and the elderly.
Power outages due to blackouts and thunderstorms can be common in summer. This US CDC site lists steps you can take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if your power goes out.
During hot weather, you can take the following steps to prepare and cope while you wait for the electricity to come back on:
- Stay on the lowest floor - usually the coolest - and out of the sunshine.
- Slow down and wait until cooler times during the day to do activities that are physically demanding.
- Dress in lightweight loose clothing.
- Drink, drink, drink - water and non-alcohol drinks!! Don't wait until you feel thirsty - stay hydrated. In hot weather, as much as 3-4 quarts per day are recommended while exercising.
- If the power is out for over 2 hours, be aware of the safety of food in your refrigerator and freezer. Never test food by tasting it! More on food safety from USDA
- Avoid heavy meals, alcohol, and caffeine -- all of which can make you feel hotter.
- Be sure to check on vulnerable people you know -- seniors, people with disabilities, and children -- to see that they drink enough and stay as comfortable as possible.
- If someone in your home requires medical equipment that runs on electricity, consider purchasing a small generator to use as a back-up.
- Keep a supply of flashlights, batteries, and a battery-powered radio on hand. Try not to use candles as they pose a fire hazard.
- Consider purchasing a battery-operated table fan.
- Unplug computers or other equipment which might be damaged by an electrical surge when the power is restored, or get surge protectors.
- When driving, be careful at intersections - traffic lights may be out, creating a dangerous situation.
Source: Federal Citizen Information Center of the U.S. General Services Administration.
When you fill up remember not to top off your gas tank. Topping off can spill gasoline which quickly evaporates. Gasoline vapors can harm your family's health and make ozone pollution and smog worse. In hot weather, buy gas in the early morning or at night. Read more.