The greater Chicagoland area is expected to brave a big heat wave this weekend. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago has a free online heat safety guide on www.redcross.org. Sweltering summer weather can be just as dangerous as the frigid Chicago winters the city faces each year. However, heat-related illnesses can become serious or even deadly if unattended. Anyone can be susceptible, although the very young and very old are at greater risk.
It is important to understand several terms during times of hot weather. A heat wave is a period of high heat (90 degrees Fahrenheit or greater) and humidity greater than 80 percent for more than 48 hours. A heat index indicates how hot it feels in degrees Fahrenheit when relative humidity is added to the air temperature.
It is necessary to alter behavior when a heat wave is predicted or in progress to prevent heat-related illness such as heat exhaustion or stroke. Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition in which the body’s temperature control system stops working and body temperature rises to a point where brain damage and death could occur.
“Signs of heat-related illnesses include nausea, dizziness, flushed or pale skin, heavy sweating and headaches. Victims of heat-related illness should be moved to a cool place, given cool water to drink and ice packs or cool wet cloths should be applied to the skin. If a victim refuses water, vomits or loses consciousness, call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number immediately,” said Martin Makowski, a health and safety expert with the Greater Chicago Red Cross.
In times of a heat wave, it is important to avoid strenuous activity. If that’s not possible, try to do it during the coolest part of the day – usually between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Slow down and stay indoors as much as possible. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest level of the building out of sunshine. People who do not have air conditioning should try to go to a public building with air conditioning each day for several hours.
Aside from using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater, people should wear lightweight, light-colored clothing and drink plenty of water regularly and often. The human body needs water to keep cool and water is the safest liquid to drink during hot conditions. It is also important to avoid alcohol, caffeine and excessive salt, as these can contribute to dehydration.
About the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago leads a regional grouping in Illinois and Northwest Indiana that serves more than 9.6 million people. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org/chicago.