Summer heatwaves are soaring higher and lasting longer. Planning and preparing for stretches of extreme heat is essential as higher temperatures can lead to serious health risks and side-effects with some medications. Here are some tips and resources to prepare and protect yourself for hot weather.
Increased Heat Means More Health Risks
Longer periods of high temperatures are becoming more frequent around BC. The province now has two classifications for heat events and defines them as this:
Heat Warning: when daytime and overnight temperatures are higher than usual, but they are not getting hotter every day.
Extreme Heat Emergency: An Extreme Heat Emergency is when daytime and overnight temperatures get hotter every day and are well above seasonal norms.
While it can be very uncomfortable for some people, others are at a much higher risk and preparing for these events is critical. Creating an emergency plan and making sure you know where to access support is especially important for individuals who do not have in-home cooling systems, have pre-existing health conditions or take certain medications. People at higher risk for heat related emergencies are:
- Older adults aged 65 years or older
- People who live alone, rely on others for care, or have limited mobility
- People with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, respiratory or heart diseases
- People with mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia
- Individuals taking some prescription medications
- People with substance use disorders
- Individuals who are marginally housed
- Anyone who works in hot environments
- People who are pregnant, infants, young children and pets
Speak to your healthcare provider or pharmacist to find out if your health condition or medications put you at higher risk. Fraser Health’s Summer Heat Safety for Seniors and People with Medical Conditions is also a handy guide.
Prepare Your Home and Identify Cool Zones
Indoor temperatures can build up over days and become less likely to cool down adequately overnight. If you live in a place that gets very hot and does not have air conditioning, there are ways to prepare your home to make it more comfortable. The province of British Columbia has a guide to Be prepared for extreme heat and drought that can help you prepare your home and direct you to other important resources. It is important to note that fans alone cannot lower air temperature in a hot room, but with some home-made modifications they can help cool you off. We’ve pulled together a few tips and resources here as well:
- Identify a cool zone in your home like a basement or shaded side where you can set up living and sleeping areas for the duration
- Close doors to rooms not needed to maximize cooling efforts in occupied spaces
- Turn on venting fans in the kitchen and bathrooms to help pull out hot air
- Close windows, blinds and curtains from 10am – 8pm to block heat from sun and glare
- Install covers or reflective film on windows – even a piece of cardboard can help
- In homes with a forced air furnace, shut off the heat and turn on the fan to help move cool air around the house
- Invest in an air conditioning unit and a couple types of fans to move cooler air around your home
- Turn a fan into a cool air source by placing a large container of ice directly in front of the cage, or attaching a couple of frozen water bottles to the backside of the fan cage with twist ties and place a towel at the base to catch condensation
During periods of extreme heat, if the temperature in your home stays at or above 26-31C you may be better off seeking shelter with a friend or family member who has air conditioning, at cooling stations, or public buildings such as a recreation center or shopping mall.
Protect Yourself from Heat Sickness
Hot days can increase feelings of stress and anxiety, air pollution and seasonal allergies. Heat-related illnesses happen when our body gains heat faster than it can cool itself down. In cases of extreme heat, even healthy people can become ill and require medical attention. There is a greater risk for people using certain medications that can affect how efficiently your body gets rid of heat, which increases the chances of overheating and dehydration. Use this Staying Healthy in the Heat guide to help prepare yourself and loved-ones, and use a buddy system to check on each other regularly. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Check the weather advisories in your area before making plans: the weather app on your device, the weather channel, or the EmergencyInfoBC web page
- Early mornings and mid-later evenings are the best time to do outdoor chores or walk pets
- Make extra ice and place containers of water in the fridge for cooling off
- Stay well hydrated with plenty of water and electrolytes
- Take cold showers to cool off when feeling too warm
- Post emergency contact numbers on your fridge so you can easily call if you feel unwell
- Make your own cooling kits if you do not have access to a commercially made unit
Signs of Heat-Related Illness
Hot weather affects people differently. Remember to ask your health practitioner or pharmacist if you are at risk from hot weather, self-monitor and check in with a buddy regularly. To help you with assessing and preventing heat-related illnesses, check out this handy extreme heat poster.
For mild heat-related symptoms, the recommendation is to: drink plenty of cool water and add electrolytes as needed to replace minerals due to sweating, take a cold bath or shower, and stay indoors and rest.
Mild symptoms may include:
- Headaches, nausea and irritability
- Light-headed or dizzy
- Thirsty, dry mouth or difficulty swallowing
- Heat rash or cramping
Even mild symptoms can worsen quickly. Moderate symptoms may include:
- Strong headache, nausea, vomiting or dizziness
- Decreased urine output
- Increased heart rate
- Body temperature over 38C
- Rapid breathing, heart palpitations or chest pains
If you experience any change in your health or if you have concerns about symptoms you may be experiencing, call your health practitioner or the provincial Healthline at 8-1-1.
For moderate to severe symptoms, seek immediate medical attention or call 9-1-1.
For more information and resources about extreme heat and health safety, call 2-1-1 or check out:
- Reach Community Health Centre’s Extreme Heat Safety handout
- The Government of Canada Climate Change and Health pages
- The Vancouver Coastal Health pages
- The Interior Health pages
- The Fraser Health sun and heat safety info
- The Northern Health extreme heat warnings pages
- Download the Alertable App from the App Store (Apple) or Google Play/Apps (Android) to your device and set it to your desired location(s)
Visit our website to learn more about BC CRN or connect with your local CRN for more information or resources. Special thanks to our Williams Lake CRN for sourcing select resources linked in this article.