In recent history, Oregon has been breaking record-high temperatures with each successive summer. While any cloudless day encourages us all to head outside and boost our dwindling Vitamin D, we must remember that careless, prolonged exposure to sun and heat is a major threat to anyone’s health. The PNW just entered yet another Heat Advisory Warning period, so take the time to review why excessive heat is dangerous, who is most at risk for heat illness, what symptoms to look out for, when to plan activities or stay indoors, and how to set your family up for a safe and spectacular time under the sun!
The Red Cross prioritizes this message on their Heat Wave Safety page: “Extreme heat is the most dangerous type of severe-weather event in the US,” meaning that it claims more human lives each year than hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, or lightning! Overexposure to heat begins with heat cramps which lead to heat exhaustion. These two stages can overall be managed by rest and rehydration. Heat stroke, however, is the third critical stage in which the body can no longer regulate temperature and cannot sweat to cool itself. Within a mere 10 minutes, the body temperature can rise above 106° and cause irreparable brain and organ damage. Another reason heat stroke is so fatal is the fact that most Emergency Response Teams are not called in time to arrive on the scene until after this 10-15 minute window has passed. Knowing how to identify and treat heat stroke can save your own life or the life of another!
While all parents believe their family is extra special, no one on Earth can fully evade the dangers of heat illness, and there are many underlying reasons a person may be prone to them. Human bodies are affected easily by their immediate environment, and there are guaranteed consequences when extreme heat is inescapable. Still, it is good to be aware of those who have increased risk from the start: the CDC defines those at greatest risk to be “infants and children up to four years of age, people 65 years of age and older, people who are overweight, and people who are ill or on certain medications.” It is also good to consider that daily water intake requirements increase exponentially amid hotter temperatures. The average person does not consume enough water even on a mild, cloudy day, so dehydration is a common catalyst for heat illness. The typical body does not send a thirst alert until it is already dehydrated, so do not wait until you are thirsty to drink! Lastly, follow the advice of the travel phrase “Know Before You Go” and research the expected weather before your family is exposed outdoors. A little extra preparation, like a sun hat or cold sports drink, can help everyone lower their risk.
Below is a handy chart explaining the symptoms and differences between heat exhaustion and heat stroke. In both scenarios, fast action is vital! Educate your family on these warning signs and proper actions so that we can all work together to lower annual deaths due to heat illness.
Thanks to Earth’s ingenious design, people still have time to work in those summer activities outside of the day’s maximum heat. Getting an early start in the morning offers cooler hours with less-intense sunshine. Earth typically begins accumulating excess heat at noon, when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, and will continue to warm up until at least 3pm. When heat advisories are in effect, it is considered unwise and unhealthy to join any strenuous outdoor activity during the hours of 1pm to 5pm. Encouraging children to wake earlier on summer days can also help to encourage a natural desire for rest during the hottest hours of the day. For maximum safety, try to make plans only before 10am and after 7pm when the humidity is lower and shade is more readily available. When you see anyone exhibiting symptoms of heat illness, there is no time to delay! Those who fail to remember or notice the warning signs may lose precious time to help, so now is always the right time to practice safety.
Even once you have educated yourself and your loved ones about heat illness, keeping cool can still be difficult! Not everyone is blessed to live in a home with central AC, and we all can admit that fans and cool drinks are not always enough. The CDC has made great efforts to provide a list of tips for beating the heat. Their advice runs the gamut from staying indoors and pacing yourself all the way to avoiding hot, heavy meals or dark colored clothing. I am sure we all hope it goes without saying by now, but never leave pets or children unattended in a car during hot days. High temperatures can turn a non-existent problem into an emergency in a matter of minutes, so whether you are floating on the lake, weeding the garden, or kicking a soccer ball, always have a buddy around to encourage accountability for proper rest and hydration as well as monitor for heat illness symptoms. Stay connected with local authorities and news stations (such as the Marion county webpage or other county websites throughout Oregon) to find the latest advisories and locate emergency cooling centers. If you’re struggling to keep kids both cool and entertained, malls, libraries, department stores, and indoor playgrounds can be great air-conditioned locations to take the whole family. Keeping out of the heat can take some creativity, so reach out to friends and family for help!
Staying cool once temps soar past the 90s can be tricky. Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to Oregonians, especially now that you have a place to start looking! With each new record-breaking summer we survive, this state becomes more aware of the danger extreme heat brings, and subsequently more equipped to handle it. Parents should actively practice safe heat-preparedness in order to better equip the younger generations with important knowledge necessary for survival. While smearing some cream on a nose or avoiding a sugary drink may not seem like a huge deal, every wise, positive action makes a difference!
Michelle is a married mother of two toddler girls and a house full of pets. As a homegrown Oregonian, she enjoys spending her time on family adventures throughout the PNW to fuel her creative inspiration! Photography, crochet, freehand mandala designs, hiking, and gardening are a few of her hobbies that are highlighted on Instagram @xenonvogue. Each new day is a chance to be present and involved, so Michelle strives to live honoring the knowledge that this too shall pass.