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California heat wave: What does extreme heat do to our bodies and how can we protect ourselves?

The US is experiencing unusually hot temperatures this weekend so make sure you are prepared for temperatures touching 120 Fahrenheit.

Update:
Daniel Encinias stands next to the ruins of his home destroyed by the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon fire in Tierra Monte, New Mexico.
ANDREW HAYREUTERS

With wildfires raging in New Mexico, people in the southern US should prepare for some incredible heat. From southern Texas to California, people should be expecting daytime temperatures between 10 and 20 degrees greater than usual. 100 degrees fahrenheit plus can be expected across California and it won’t be until Tuesday that it begins to calm down.

The US government classes ‘extreme heat’ as “a period of high heat and humidity with temperatures above 90 degrees for at least two to three days.” Extreme heat is responsible for the highest number of deaths a year among all weather-related hazards.

People most at risk from this heat are older adults, children, the sick, and the overweight.

What does the heat do to our bodies?

Our bodies need to be kept at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. With temperatures exceeding this, our bodies need to work harder to maintain this temperature. There are multiple illnesses that are associated with extreme heat.

The most common is heat stroke. This can be measured by a temperature reading greater than 98.6. Symptoms include dizziness and a lack of sweat, despite red skin. It is recommended to take the person to hospital. Two other illnesses are heat cramps and exhaustion.

What you can do to keep cool

The ready.gov website has a list of recommendations that you can apply to keep cool this weekend:

  • Never leave people or pets in a closed car on a warm day.
  • If air conditioning is not available in your home go to a cooling center.
  • Take cool showers or baths.
  • Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Use your oven less to help reduce the temperature in your home.
  • If you’re outside, find shade. Wear a hat wide enough to protect your face.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Avoid high-energy activities or work outdoors, during midday heat, if possible.
  • Check on family members, seniors and neighbors.
  • Watch for heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
  • Consider pet safety. If they are outside, make sure they have plenty of cool water and access to comfortable shade. Asphalt and dark pavement can be very hot to your pet’s feet.

Fans are not recommended for cooling as it is the airflow which makes you feel cooler rather than a real reduction in temperature.

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