Extreme heat, defined by FEMA as a long period (at least two to three days) of high heat and humidity with temperatures above 90 degrees, can be more than uncomfortable – it can be deadly. It is often attributed as the highest annual number of deaths in the United States among all weather-related disasters and can happen anywhere across the country. While climate change brings more extreme fluctuations in weather, there are steps you can take to prepare.

Preparing for extreme heat:

  • Identify places you can go to get cool.
  • Hang drapes or install shades over windows and add insulation to your home.
  • Prepare for power outages.
  • Learn to recognize the signs of heat-related illness. Untreated heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can be life-threatening.
  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fainting
  • High body temperature (103°F or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness 

During an extreme heat warning:

  • Locate an air-conditioned space such as a shopping mall or public library. Stay there during the hottest period of the day, typically in the afternoon between 3-5 pm. Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you return to the heat.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty, to prevent dehydration.
  • Watch for signs of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. 
  • Do not use an electric fan when temperatures reach 95 degrees or higher. They lend a false sense of comfort due to creating air flow but not reducing body temperature and could increase your risk of heat-related illness. Instead, take a cool shower or bath to cool your body temperature down. 
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Avoid strenuous activities and pace yourself. 

If you are living with asthma, COPD or another chronic lung disease, the rising heat and humidity can make breathing more difficult. Environmental triggers, such as extreme heat, affect people with chronic lung disease differently, but here are a few tips to help protect your lungs:

  • Avoid the triggers you can control. Exposure to all types of smoke, fumes or cleaning products can add up. Consider slowing your pace or delaying hobbies, housekeeping or yardwork activities when your lungs are already working hard in the heat.
  • Follow your asthma or COPD action plan and communicate worsening symptoms to your healthcare provider.

When dealing with extreme heat, be sure to check on elderly friends and neighbors frequently to ensure that they are keeping safely cooled. 

For more information on protecting your lungs in extreme weather, please contact our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA.

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Additional Resources

Page last updated: July 12, 2024

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