Michigan Association of Health Plans

Heat wave safety tips

This article was posted on unicef. Read more here.

Heat waves are anything but fun in the sun. Extreme heat and humidity can be extremely uncomfortable and pose serious health risks, especially for infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly. Without taking the proper precautions, extreme heat can lead to heat stroke and even worse, fatality. As a result of climate change, heat waves are becoming longer, more frequent and more severe.

Here are some expert tips to help keep your family safe during a heat wave, how to recognize signs of heat stroke and what actions you should take if needed.

Heat wave facts


What is a heat wave?

Heat waves happen when the temperature is higher than normal for several days in a row. Humidity can cause it to feel much hotter.

What causes a heat wave?

Heat waves result from warm air being trapped in the atmosphere and are a natural weather phenomenon. Heat waves are increasing in intensity and frequency due to climate change, resulting from greenhouse gas emissions, that is trapping heat for longer.

Who’s most at risk from heat waves?

Too much heat is dangerous for everyone’s health. Infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly are especially vulnerable to heat stress.

Too much heat can be more dangerous for babies and children than for adults, and dehydration in children can be dangerous or even deadly. Children’s bodies have more trouble regulating temperature than those of adults, and they rely on adults to help protect them from heat.

Pregnant women are at greater risk as well. Too much heat and dehydration can put the baby at higher risk of low birthweight, early birth and even stillbirth. Pregnant women themselves can be negatively affected and go into early labour, as well as develop gestational diabetes and hypertension.

What to do in a heat wave


Be prepared

  • Know how hot and humid it is going to get today, this week and this month to help plan outside activities.
  • Keep an emergency kit at home that contains oral rehydration salt (ORS) packets, a thermometer, water bottles, towels or cloths to wet for cooling, a handheld fan or mister with batteries, and a checklist to identify and treat symptoms of heat stress.
  • Know how to get help. Note down the contact information for the nearest health care provider or ambulance/transport services.

Keep your home cool

  • When possible, close the curtains during the hottest parts of the day and open windows at night time to cool down the house.
  • Use fans and coolers if available.

Stay out of the heat

  • Do not go outside during the hottest times of the day if you can avoid it. Try to arrange your activities earlier or later in the day when it is cooler.
  • When outside, wear sunscreen and try to stay in the shade or use hats and umbrellas for protection.

Stay cool and hydrated

  • Drink water at regular intervals before you are thirsty.
  • Overdressing in the heat can make you dehydrated and hotter faster, so wear light and loose clothes. Cotton is ideal during hot days to help reduce heat rashes and absorb sweating. Similarly, cotton bed sheets are recommended over non-breathable materials.
  • Carry a water bottle and a small towel, so you can hydrate and cool down by placing a wet towel on your neck.
  • Check to see if your community has a heat relief or cooling centre near you. You could also use the waiting areas of health facilities as a temporary cooling shelter.
Signs and symptoms of heat-related illness


Severe symptoms of heat stress require urgent care.

If a family member is presenting any of the severe symptoms below you should call for an ambulance or arrange for another form of transport to a health facility immediately.

Trust your instincts and don’t hesitate to call for medical assistance.

How to treat heatstroke and heat-related illnesses


1. Cool and rush to health facility if severe
2. Reduce temperature
3. Rehydrate
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