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All you need to learn to remain safe during California heat wave

This story was originally published on July 9, 2021.

When I begin speaking with Dr. Christopher Colwell, the principle of emergency medicine at SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA General Hospital, I thank him for communicating with me about heat safety a topic that may inevitably are more salient because the summer progresses.

And perhaps for the near future, he replied, glumly.

Hes acknowledged an inevitable reality. As heat waves grow more serious in the Bay Area and the broader western USA, these historically mild areas are ill-equipped to take care of the onslaught of heat that’s poised ahead come early july and likely future summers ahead. This heat event has already been setting records in Southern California and can likely hit Northern California hard this Labor Day weekend.

And probably the most vulnerable unhoused and low-income people, older adults and small children tend to be those least equipped to withstand increasingly hot temperatures, especially in the Bay Area.

While the areas in the usa may face more humid, consistent heat, namely the South, the Midwest and the mid-Atlantic, Colwell highlights that the homes in these regions are usually built with air-con.

Nearly every home in major cities in the South has air-con. Meanwhile, less than 1 / 2 of SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA and Seattle homes have air-con. (Portland only fares slightly better, with just over three-quarters of homes having an Air conditioner.)

I recall heat wave of 2017 was a genuine eye-opener for a number of people, he told SFGATE. We realized that just even being on the next or third floor of a building in a heat wave without air-con, we were considering indoor temperatures of 110 or even more in some of the apartments where they didnt have even air-con because traditionally we havent needed it in the Bay Area.

This is what you should know about staying safe throughout a heat wave.

Why seniors are so vulnerable during heat events

While its common knowledge that seniors should take particular care during heat events, the myriad reasons often get glossed over.

Probably the most apparent reason: The older we get, the less the body can adapt to increased, extended periods of heat, Colwell says. (Older folks are also more prone to be taking medication for hypertension along with other ailments which make it more challenging for your body to cool off.)

But theres another insidious issue that is included with age.

You can find higher degrees of cognitive issues, dementia, those forms of things where they could not have the ability to express that theyre hot, Colwell explained.

This poses a slew of problems.

The largest indicator of a heat stroke is confusion and ataxia, or perhaps a lack of control over bodily movement that results in stumbling or collapsing, and these signs are harder to detect for those who have dementia along with other cognitive issues, Colwell says.

How are we assessing [them]? he says. Maybe theyre a bit more confused. Is that only a bad day? Which can be sometimes hard to straighten out particularly, obviously if somebody isnt paying close attention.

So, during heat waves along with other heat events, Colwell advises that you may spend additional time together with your older family members, especially if they will have a brief history of dementia, Alzheimers or other cognitive issues.

A runner passes the office of the California Employment Development Department in Sacramento, Calif.

A runner passes any office of the California Employment Development Department in Sacramento, Calif.

Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press 2020

How exactly to remain safe when exercising throughout a heat wave

One unexpected demographic that Colwell sees a whole lot in his type of work is athletes, even those people who are operating at peak physical performance.

What will happen is that coaches, trainers and also athletes themselves have a tendency to overexert themselves when the temperature starts climbing.

In the emergency department, we’d see some terrible cases when its beginning to get hot early in the summertime, he said.

Football could very well be probably the most traditional example, with rigid coaches forcing players to endure warm weather since theyve been taking it easy through the winter.

In such cases, its a misunderstanding of the way the body interacts with heat.

A few of the coaches, within their mind, go, Ok last one, that is my opportunity. Im likely to have them into shape and heat can help make that faster. But we do have to recognize your body needs time and energy to acclimate so that you can ultimately make contact with doing full workouts even during heat.

Its not that your body cant handle intense heat; it just needs seven to 10 days to acclimate to warm weather even for probably the most athletic individual.

Another note, for the standard jogger or the professional athlete: Once you begin experiencing heat illness, stop exercising. This might seem apparent for some, but Colwell has seen incidents where athletes will undoubtedly be pushed to teach even with suffering severe heat exhaustion. So dont push it, even though you recover.

As California faces a heat wave, it's important to know how to keep you and your loved ones safe.

As California faces a heat wave, it is critical to understand how to keep you as well as your family members safe.

Alistair Berg/Getty Images

How exactly to treat heat stroke

The most known signs of heat illness are apparent: fatigue, lightheadedness, sweating.

However the indicators a more serious heat stroke event is going on are more subtle confusion, a lack of balance.

What goes on may be the cerebellum, [the portion of the brain that controls cognition and balance], is quite sensitive to heat, and thats usually among the first areas in your body that really begin to be overwhelmed by heat.

Call 911 the moment someone you care about begins experiencing these symptoms. But you can find measures which can be taken up to cool someone down rapidly.

Take them to an awesome area, preferably somewhere air-conditioned but a good shaded yard can do the secret. Escape any clothing that’s preventing [them] from losing heat and expose just as much of the persons body as possible. Then, grab a spray bottle and mist all their exposed skin with water and invite evaporation to occur.

It may seem that ice-cold water does the secret. But perhaps counterintuitively, room temperature water is recommended.

It is because of just how our brain processes extreme heat.

If Im critically hot and my core body’s temperature is hyperthermic and you also spray me with ice water, Colwell said, Im likely to start shivering despite the fact that my core body is hot.

As well as perhaps most important to notice, Colwell says, is that heat strokes usually do not only afflict individuals who exercise intensely or those who are stuck indoors throughout a severe day of heat they are able to happen over a protracted period.

Days eventually will need their toll, and sometimes, an extended time frame in heat can be in the same way dangerous as shorter periods when youre exerting yourself, he warns.

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