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Heat and Humidity a Deadly Combination

The two can lead to heat stroke

(HealthDay is the new name for HealthScoutNews.)

SUNDAY, June 29, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- The discomfort of hot and humid weather is obvious to anyone who's suffered through it.

However, you may not be aware that it's a potentially deadly combination that can cause heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

About 175 Americans die from extreme heat during a normal weather year, says the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The people most likely to be victims of heat-related death are young children, elderly people and those who are sick or overweight. Men are more susceptible than women because they sweat more and therefore become more quickly dehydrated.

Your body sheds heat in different ways: by varying the rate and depth of blood circulation; by sweating; and even by panting. However, once the air temperature reaches 95 degrees Fahrenheit, your body relies on sweating to control its internal temperature, NOAA says.

High humidity gums up your sweating cooling system. Sweating relies on evaporation to remove the moisture from your skin and cool you down. When there's high humidity, there's a great deal more water vapor in the air. That reduces the amount of evaporation that can take place to keep you cool.

If you want to stay safe and healthy when it's hot and humid, check out the following advice from NOAA.

  • Avoid the heat if you can by spending time in air-conditioned settings such as shopping malls. Just two hours a day in air conditioning greatly reduces the risk of heat-related illness. If you have to stay in a home where there's no air conditioning, stay on the lowest floor of your home out of the sunshine.
  • li>Wear loose-fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible. The clothing should be lightweight and light-colored so that it reflects heat and helps you maintain normal body temperature. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and avoid too much sunshine.
  • Drink lots of water and natural juices, even if you're not thirsty. Avoid coffee, tea, cola and alcohol, all of which increase dehydration. Eat small meals more often and avoid foods high in protein, which increase your body's metabolic heat.
  • Slow down. If you have to do outdoor exercise or yard work, do it in the early morning or late evening hours. Take cool baths or showers.

More information

The American Red Cross has information on how to cope with a heat wave.

SOURCE: U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Adminstration
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