Extreme Heat Events
By Anita Jean
Just a few months ago, it felt like winter would never end. We dealt with a polar vortex, frequent snowstorms and near records amounts of snowfall. With the coming of the summer solstice, we are now about to embark on a season with potentially extreme weather events of a different nature. Extreme heat can be dangerous, especially for infants, young children, seniors and individuals engaging in physical activity outside.
The Government of Canada has five basic recommendations when dealing with extreme heat and heat waves on its website healthycanadians.gc.ca:
- Prepare yourself for the heat
- Pay attention on how you feel
- Stay hydrated
- Stay cool
- Avoid extreme heat
If you wish to have more information, Health Canada has released an Extreme Heat Events Program which can be accessed online at MacHealth.ca . This program provides brochures, information, tools and resources for the public and health care providers on the dangers of extreme heat, and how to properly prevent heat related illnesses.
Three specific resources are available: one for caregivers looking after children; one for adults and seniors trying to keep cool; and one for individuals engaging in outdoor activities. These resources are available in either French or English and follow a basic format to help identify heat illnesses, deal with emergencies, and strategies to prevent heat illnesses in the first place.
"Keep children cool! Protect your child from extreme heat" provides caregivers with a lot of information such as how to identify potential signs of heat illness in children. For example, edema or the swelling of hands, feet and ankles, as well as heat rash and heat cramps could all be signs of illness from the heat. Health Canada suggests that to protect children from extreme heat, caregivers should stay informed about the weather forecast. Caregivers should also watch children closely for signs such as extreme thirst, decreased urination, unusually dark yellow urine. Helpful suggestions beyond keeping children protected from the sun include feeding children fruits and vegetables with a high water content, encouraging them to drink more water every time they wash their hands by having a colourful glass by the sink, and giving them a cool bath.
"It's way too hot! Protect yourself from extreme heat" is a good resource for adults and seniors. Individuals that have hypertension, heart or kidney problems, and breathing difficulties are all at higher risk of illness due to heat. Health Canada recommends drinking plenty of water, and not waiting until you feel thirsty to drink. Some strategies for frail adults include a regular visit by a friend or family member on very hot days.
For the sport enthusiast, Health Canada has a resource called "You're Active in the Heat. You're at risk! Protect Yourself from Extreme Heat" containing useful tips on being active during extreme heat events to prevent heat illnesses. Health Canada suggest that if you experience symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, headache, or extreme thirst during extreme heat, immediately move to a cool place and drink liquids, preferably water. Heat stroke symptoms such as high body temperature, unconsciousness or state of confusion are described as an emergency situation.
For health professionals, MacHealth features a new free accredited 1"hour e"module entitled "Health Care Workers Guide to Extreme Heat Events" can help professionals keep up"to"date on the current state of heat"health evidence. The extreme heat online program is the result of a collaborative effort among the Division of e"Learning Innovation at McMaster University, Health Canada, the Ontario College of Family Physicians, and the Clean Air Partnership. Have a happy, safe and sunny summer.
Anita Jean is Manager, Health and Social Programs, at the NorWest Community Health Centres.
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