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Hot enough for you?

How to cope in high heat and high humidity

How to cope in high heat and high humidity
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What to watch for

What to do if you need medical attention

No air conditioning? Get creative

Pilot project on heat


Winnipeg Health Region
Published Tuesday July 5, 2011

You survived a Winnipeg winter, rising rivers, high winds and higher than average rainfalls. Welcome to extreme heat and humidity, which forecasts are suggesting will be the norm this summer, rather than the exception.

If it feels hotter than it is, that's thanks to higher humidity. Health experts say that means keeping cool and supporting your body's ability to cool itself down are important.

"It's a growing issue. People might be happy to have the heat after a long winter but the trend they're seeing over time is that it will not just get hotter but more humid," says Kulpreet Munde, for the Heat Alert Response System (HARS) Pilot Project Regional Coordinator. "It all comes down to the body's ability to cool itself."

Munde explains that people in high risk groups - older adults and younger children - may be particularly susceptible to the combination of high humidity and heat because their bodies typically have a diminished ability to deal with high temperatures.

Those who are very active outdoors, those who work outdoors and people with chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart or respiratory condition also need to be mindful.

Protect yourself from heat

Regardless of what your age or health condition may be, there are four key things to do when the mercury and humidity rise:

  1. Stay aware and be prepared. Check what the forecast will be. Watch the news or listen to the radio to discover if there's a heat advisory in effect.
  2. Stay hydrated. On a typical day, health experts recommend eight to 10 glasses of water for an adult. When it's hot, plan to drink at least that amount or more to make sure your body's functioning as best it can. (And try to limit or skip caffeinated beverages, which can dehydrate your body.)
  3. Stay cool and keep out of the sun. Dress appropriately for the weather. Consider hats or caps to shield yourself from the sun; direct sunlight can make things even hotter.
  4. Take care of yourself and others. Check to make sure people are managing the heat well, particularly if they're very young or very old. Offer help when and where you can.

About getting active when it's hot, health experts suggest looking at a couple of things:

  • Slow down a bit. Your body needs to cool itself down and it's already working harder to do that when the temperature rises. Going at your typical pace in intense heat may not be your strongest choice.
  • Time your activity. Consider taking that bike ride, going for that run or taking your dog for a walk during cooler parts of the day, such as first thing in the morning.

What to watch for

Three key things to be mindful of are dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Dehydration is when your body fluids are low. Typical symptoms include: thirst, less sweat and urine and dry mouth. The more severe dehydration becomes, the more severe impact can be on your body: including coma and failure of internal organs.

Heat exhaustion happens with your body loses too much water and salt. Symptoms include: headache, nausea, muscle cramps, pale/clammy skin, dizziness or fainting, fast breathing and a rapid heartbeat. Sip water in a cool place and lie down.

Heat stroke is when your core body temperature is above 40°C. It requires urgent medical attention (e.g. call 911) to avoid permanent damage or death. Symptoms include: headache, red, hot and dry skin, dizziness, confusion, nausea, a rapid and weak pulse and a complete or partial loss of consciousness. While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, move the person to a cool place and sponge the body with cold water.

No air conditioning? Get creative

If you don't have air conditioning, it's still important to keep yourself cool.

  1. Find a cool location (try a mall or movie theatre or visit someone who has air conditioning for the day or evening).
  2. Visit a local swimming pool.
  3. Take cool showers or baths until you feel relief.

Pilot project on heat

The Winnipeg Health Region has been an active partner in a pilot project funded by Health Canada to develop and demonstrate the effectiveness of heat alert and response systems at regional or municipal levels.

The Heat Alert Response Pilot Project (HARS) is looking at two areas: the Winnipeg Health Region and the Assiniboine Regional Health Authority. Establishing and facilitating communication between health, emergency response, emergency social services and municipal governments is a key element of this project.

Environmental Heat Monitoring Systems (they measure temperature, humidity, solar radiation and wind) in Winnipeg and south-west Manitoba are gathering data about heat. Using this information, Heat Alert Response Systems will be developed and implemented. Once created and communicated, this will provide a way to easily explain the recommended activities and actions for health during high temperatures.

The overall goal is reduce the health impacts of heat while creating a culture of awareness with respect to heat. "Most Canadians don't think about heat," says Munde. "The climate is slowly and surely changing. We need to make sure our attitudes about heat are also changing."


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