In recent days, an extreme heat wave is ravaging Canada , with temperatures reaching 50ºC and affecting, above all, the west coast of the country, as well as the northwestern United States. The most terrible consequences of this heat are the hundreds of deaths that are taking place , since this heat can be lethal.
Specifically, the data suggest that between June 25 and 28, coinciding with the heat wave, there have been an excess of hundreds of deaths compared to the average number of deaths at this time of year.
The death rate between those dates should have been around 165, but it has shot up to 486, triple that. Although it is too early to know how many of these deaths have occurred as a result of heat, experts do believe that much of the excess may be due to extreme temperatures.
Body limit, 42º
The human body has mechanisms to lower body temperature when it is excessive. However, heatstroke, heat stroke or burns are problems related to the sun and high temperatures that, if left unchecked, can end up being fatal.
The ideal temperature for the vital functions to develop correctly is, generally, between 36º and 37ºC. These temperatures vary depending on the health and the person, since those who live in hot and humid climates end up adapting and withstand extreme heat better.
“When the outside temperatures are higher than those of the body, the blood in the skin will not release heat.”
However, everything has a limit: ” When the outside temperatures are higher than those of the body, the blood in the skin will not release heat . And where the humidity is high, the sweat will not cool the skin,” they explain from the Science medium. News For Students . Specifically, experts indicate that humans cannot cool ourselves properly if we spend a lot of time at around 35ºC with humidity.
It is when the body spends a lot of time in an environment at this temperature and high humidity that it begins to experience heat exhaustion, causing weakness, dizziness and nausea. If it is not remedied, the person can go on to suffer from heat stroke : “This indicates that the body’s ability to regulate heat has deteriorated. This can allow the core body temperature to rise up to 40 ° C.” Finally, if the body temperature is not lowered , seizures, convulsions, or coma can occur, leading to death.
To have an approximate reference, a body temperature of about 42ºC, can be fatal and cause death: “If a person gets too hot (this inflection point varies, but is around 42 ° C for heat stress due to exertion), sweating can stop and body temperature can skyrocket, sometimes even above 44ºC “, they explain from the scientific journal Science . It is at this point that the brain falters, which can lead to confusion, slurred speech, even coma, or death.
In fact, several studies show that heat waves influence the cognitive functions of human beings , increasing reaction time and reducing the performance of activities, as shown by research published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Heat, a silent killer
In line with the heat wave that is taking place in the American continent, it should be known that official data, collected by Popular Science magazine, leaves around 700 deaths annually in the United States related to exposure to extreme heat.
“We know one thing for sure: we can expect more deaths in the next few years.”
However, experts who study the relationship between health and heat believe that this figure falls short and that it could be many more deaths: “It is difficult to say how many with certainty, since most of them are not registered . Whatever that grim count, we know one thing for sure: we can expect more in the coming years, “says the aforementioned media.
Extreme heat events are increasing, so scientists believe that a greater percentage of the population will deal with dangerous highs , as indicated by the National Weather Service .
The aforementioned data on deaths produced in relation to extreme heat are closely related to the age or conditions of each person. That is why annual deaths are swollen, especially by the most vulnerable populations, such as the homeless and the elderly.
Although no one is immune to heat, it affects some groups much more than others. Specifically, the elderly are the most vulnerable group, since they have fewer sweat glands and the body’s mechanisms of response to increased temperature are slower.
Generally, the elderly do not sweat or pump blood as effectively as the young, but children are also at risk of more easily suffering from heat stroke or exhaustion, since they do not have as developed the ability to regulate their internal temperature . The same happens with pregnant women , whose body uses more effort due to the demands that the fetus places on the body.
Finally, the conditions of the homeless , who do not have access to areas to shelter from extreme heat, as well as construction and other workers who have to be outdoors, also have a greater risk of suffering from the problems caused by extreme temperatures.
Watch out for dehydration
Proper hydration is one of the most important recommendations to avoid heat problems that can even lead to death. With extreme heat waves, hydration is much more important , as more water is lost through the sweating mechanism to regulate body temperature.
In fact, dehydration greatly increases heat stress and the risk of serious injury . However, it must be taken into account that, although staying well hydrated is very important, this may not be enough when the body temperature begins to increase if the internal or external heating is very great, as some experts have shown in their studies .
How to avoid the risk of death from heat
Thus, to avoid suffering any of these fatal consequences related to the high temperatures that occur with heat waves, it is best to follow a series of recommendations, such as those explained in the new Heat Waves Information Campaign of the Madrid’s community.
Thus, the main recommendations when there is a heat wave are:
Drink frequently : it can be water, fruit juices, soft drinks or isotonic drinks (at least 2 liters a day) even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcoholic beverages, with a lot of caffeine or very sugary, as they can cause you to lose more body fluid.
Make light meals : these should help to replace the mineral salts lost with sweat (light gazpachos, cold salads, vegetables, etc.) and avoid copious and hot meals. You have to eat in moderation, avoiding excesses. Vegetables, vegetables and summer fruit are highly recommended for their high content of water and mineral salts.
Protect yourself from the sun : avoid going outside in the hottest hours of the day. At home, blinds and awnings on facades exposed to the sun should be lowered. In the early hours of the morning or during the night, you have to take advantage of it to ventilate and refresh the house.
Outside : protect yourself from the sun and stay for as long as possible in the coolest, shaded or heated places. Do not make too much effort when it is very hot and you do not have to do outdoor sports in the hottest hours (from 12.00 to 17.00). On the other hand, you can wear light clothing and cover your head with a hat or cap. You also have to use sunscreen.
In vehicles : do not leave anyone, people or pets, in a vehicle exposed to the sun in summer, especially young children, the elderly or chronically ill.
However, if a person is found to have any symptoms related to high temperatures , such as heat stroke, syncope, or heat stress or exhaustion, these immediate actions should be taken to lower body
Stop heat exposure immediately. Put the person at rest in a cool place.
Rehydration with liquids that contain salts: oral serum, alkaline lemonade, etc.
Place the affected person lying on their back in a cool place and raise their legs.
Unbutton tight clothing, tie, etc., to facilitate breathing.
In some cases, an ice pack may be applied to the head or cool water compresses.
On the other hand, from the aforementioned website they indicate that heat stroke is a vital emergency , so it must be treated in a hospital. When a person suffers from heat stroke they require immediate help, so call 112 . While emergency services come, you should:
Quickly lower the body temperature of the affected person, even before transfer to the hospital.
To do this, you have to place the person in the shade, undressed.
You should try to cool your body with whatever you have on hand: ice water compresses, cold shower, wrapping it in a damp sheet and putting a fan in front of it, etc.