# Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Extreme Heat And Your Health

While most Canadians enjoy the hot summer weather, extreme heat can prove to be a problem for some. With global climate changes, certain parts of Canada are now experiencing prolonged heat waves. This, combined with exposure to smog, can cause adverse health effects in some people.

Being active outdoors is a great way to get exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, it is important to recognize the effects that extreme heat can cause in order to stay healthy. Your body must work harder in a heat wave in order to maintain it's normal core temperature. Smog can further complicate matters by making it harder to breathe normally. While some people may experience mild unpleasantness, others may be potentially suffer serious and/or life threatening illness.

A heat wave refers to three or more consecutive days with extremely high temperatures, usually combined with high humidity. It is also common for the temperature to remain high even during night time hours. This means that your body is constantly working overtime to keep cool. This pressure can aggravate pre-consisting conditions where the heart and lungs are already strained.

While most people may just experience discomfort in a heat wave, certain groups are more at risk. This includes:

• Seniors
• Infants and pre-school children
• Pregnant women
• Diabetics
• People with heart and/or respiratory disease
• People who play sports, exercise or do strenuous work outdoors for a prolonged period of time
• People who work outdoors, i.e. construction workers
• People who are currently taking anti-depressants, anti-parkinson's drugs, diuretics, sleep medications, anti-diarrhea pills and certain antihistamines
• People who are overweight

Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can cause symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. These include:

• Heat Cramps: painful spasms usually in the leg and stomach muscles. These are usually accompanied by heavy sweating. If you are experiencing this, move to a cooler place and lightly massage the affected muscles. Sip a half a glass of cool water every 15 minutes.
• Heat Exhaustion: even though sweating profusely, your skin is cool, pale, and/or flushed. Can be accompanied by a weak pulse rate, dizziness and/or fainting, vomiting, headache and exhaustion. People affected by heat exhaustion should immediately lay down in a cool place, and put on cool wet clothes. Slowly sip a glass of water every half an hour, unless nauseous. If vomiting occurs, seek medical attention immediately.
• Heat Stroke: also known as sun stroke. This occurs when body temperature is high, pulse is strong and rapid, and breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Heat stroke is incredibly dangerous, and can result in death. Symptoms include severe headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and the skin is red, hot and dry, with no sweating. If you suspect you or someone else may be suffering from heat stroke go to the hospital immediately.

It is a good idea to pay attention to daily local forecasts, in order to be aware of any heat and/or smog alerts for your region. If you are susceptible to extreme heat and/or smog, try to remain indoors on those days where extreme heat is predicted. If you do plan on being outdoors on incredibly hot days, try to do so either in the mornings or evenings, when the temperature is not as hot. Dress in loose clothes, and make sure you wear a hat, as well as sunglasses. Remember to hydrate often, and bring water with you wherever you go. If you do not have air conditioning, find out if your city or town has cooling centres, where you can escape the heat if the need arises. You can also go to a mall, public library, etc. Try to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and beverages that contain large amounts of sugar, and these can cause the body to lose more fluid. Drinking sports beverages is also important if you have been sweating, as sweating causes the body to lose salt and minerals.

Although you may not be unduly affected by the heat, make sure that those in your family such as the elderly, etc. are taken care of. For those with small children, it is important to remember that they may not be able to handle the heat as well as you. Plan activities that you can all enjoy while getting some exercise.

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