As summer begins, it is important to remember that prolonged exposure to heat, especially when humidity is high, can have some serious health consequences. But why is this? Your body cools itself off on a hot day through the evaporation of sweat. The energy required for the liquid water in your sweat to evaporate and become water vapor comes from the heat in your body, thus regulating your body temperature and keeping you from overheating. However, when there is a lot of water vapor in the air, the air is close to saturation – the point where the atmosphere cannot hold any more water vapor. The more water vapor is in the air, the less water vapor can evaporate from your skin, which slows down your body’s cooling mechanism and makes it less effective. Below is a chart from the National Weather Service that shows heat index, or the temperature that it feels like outside with increasing humidity, as well as the level of danger associated with each heat index value.
The longer you spend outside in hot and humid conditions, the more vulnerable you become to heat-related illness. This is because your body does not have a chance to cool itself, as the previously mentioned cooling mechanism of sweat evaporation cannot work. When outdoors during the summer, remember to drink water and spend time periodically in the shade or in an air-conditioned building. Symptoms of heat-related illness include nausea, flushed skin, rapid breathing and heart rate, and a headache. If you or another person are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek shade, water, and medical attention right away.
It is also important to remember that young children, the elderly, and pets are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illness. Young children’s bodies do not regulate temperature as well as adults’, and they may not remember to drink enough water while playing outside. Older adults’ ability to notice change in body temperature decreases with age, and they may have other health conditions that make them more susceptible to heat-related illness. Pets, on the other hand, do not sweat like we do – therefore, they cannot get rid of excess body heat.
Remember to be on the lookout for symptoms of heat-related illness in yourself and others as you enjoy time outdoors during warm summer months!
For more about weather safety, visit https://www.globalweatherclimatecenter.com/weather-safety-educational-topics
©2019 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
Image from the National Weather Service