July 2, 2013
Last summer in Colorado Springs, the temperature reached 101 degrees.
Most days, we're blessed around here with great weather, but when it climbs into the mid-90s and beyond, we're getting into some dangerous heat. And heat can kill.
Each year, more people in the U.S. die of heat than all other natural disasters combined. It's the heat waves that get us. Our bodies take a week or two to adapt to temperature changes, and a sudden change doesn't provide that opportunity.
The best thing to do during a heat wave is stay in the air conditioning. But what if, like many in the Pikes Peak region, you don't have it?
Most days you can open the windows and turn on the ceiling fan, and that works fine. But here's the thing you need to know about fans: When temperatures reach the mid-90s and beyond, they might make you feel cooler, but they do nothing to cool your core body temperature.
Keeping your core from getting too hot is how to keep your organs functioning. They like to stay around 98.6 degrees, give or take a couple of degrees.
Why fans don't work
You don't have to be doing hard labor to be at risk in the heat. Even at rest, your body produces quite a bit of heat from various metabolic functions.
Excess heat gets expelled via blood vessels, traveling to near the skin surface and escaping. But for that to happen, the air touching your skin has to be cooler than the heat escaping it.
Even sweat evaporating off your skin doesn't help in these high temperatures. Neither does circulating that hot air with a fan. Some people think fans can make your core hotter by bombarding your body with the surrounding hot air.
Better ways to stay cool
So what's a person to do? Well, you could run your fan over some ice. Better yet, find a place with air conditioning, even if that's your vehicle.
Stay hydrated. Drink cool, noncaffeinated liquids throughout the day. There's no need to add salt unless you're planning some heavy exercise, and then only a tad. Consider taking a couple of cool baths or showers during the day.
Be sure to check on elderly neighbors or those with health problems. Not only do they not tolerate the heat as well, but older folks tend to have fewer warning signs that they're getting too hot - or ignore the ones they have. Unless prompted, many older people don't drink enough fluids. And they tend to be a little more susceptible to one of the common warning signs: confusion. If you're confused, sometimes you don't act appropriately.
Please don't forget babies. I think we all know that a few minutes cooped up in a hot car can kill, but check bedrooms, too.
If you or someone else develops signs of heat exhaustion, such as nausea, muscle cramps, dizziness, headaches, inappropriately cool skin or confusion, do whatever it takes to cool off immediately. Because the next step is heat stroke. And that kills a lot of people.
Family doctor James Hubbard teaches how to survive during disasters or any time you can't get expert medical help at TheSurvivalDoctor.com