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updated: 7/6/2012 10:06 PM

Prolonged heat wave could have deadly consequences

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  • Janet Nothnagel of the South Elgin Parks and Recreation Department waters the plants and trees as the sun beats down on her outside the village hall Friday.

       Janet Nothnagel of the South Elgin Parks and Recreation Department waters the plants and trees as the sun beats down on her outside the village hall Friday.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Lifeguard Andre Burck of Mount Prospect mans his post with the temperature already at 100 degrees Friday at the Meadows Park Aquatic Center in Mount Prospect. The excessive heat even kept people from going to the pool.

       Lifeguard Andre Burck of Mount Prospect mans his post with the temperature already at 100 degrees Friday at the Meadows Park Aquatic Center in Mount Prospect. The excessive heat even kept people from going to the pool.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Trainer John Haran cools down the thoroughbred horse Powersfield after it ran in the second race at Arlington Park on Friday.

       Trainer John Haran cools down the thoroughbred horse Powersfield after it ran in the second race at Arlington Park on Friday.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

It's still hot.

And while bothersome to most, the prolonged heat wave gripping the area can be deadly to others.

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Health experts say those with chronic respiratory diseases, heart problems and diabetes are the most at risk from the hot spell, which topped out at 103 Friday and tied a record for three consecutive 100-plus days.

"Heat is a huge stress on the heart," said Dr. Robert Feldman, an attending emergency room physician at Stroger Hospital in Chicago.

Today's high could stop just short of 100, bringing scant relief from the cumulative effects of the long, hot week.

Five heat-related deaths have been confirmed in Chicago and one in Maywood, and others are under investigation in the collar counties.

While the immediate causes are unknown, experts say the prolonged heat can progressively worsen everything from diabetes to respiratory illness, especially for those without functioning air-conditioning.

"Over the past couple weeks I've seen people with their diabetes out of control" because dehydration causes dangerous blood glucose fluctuations, Feldman said.

An air pollution warning is extended through today, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said. High ozone levels created by heat and sun combined with auto and industrial exhaust can harm those with heart and lung problems or anyone who exercises outdoors, the agency reported, advising that virtually everyone should try to stay in a cool place.

"There definitely is a quality-of-life issue with those living with lung disease," said Meghan Miller, a spokeswoman for the Chicago chapter of the American Lung Association.

The organization has launched a phone application that allows users to check for various air-quality alerts. More information is available at lung.org/stateoftheairapp.

On Friday, ComEd reported no remaining outages from last weekend's storms but said there are intermittent outages, some caused by heat.

Heat indexes, which are tied to heat and humidity readings, haven't climbed this week to the levels the region saw in 1995 when more than 700 people across the Chicago area died of heat-related causes.

The dry winter played a part in the lower humidity levels, meteorologists said.

By this afternoon, National Weather Service meteorologists are forecasting an end to the stagnant front that has trapped the heat over the Midwest. While temperatures are expected to near the century mark today for the fourth straight day, meteorologists believe thermometers at O'Hare Airport will stay below triple digits and a cold front will push winds off Lake Michigan at 10 mph to 20 mph, finally providing some relief inland.

By late afternoon, temperatures along the lakefront could cool to the low 80s, National Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Enderlen said.

In the history of Chicago weather record-keeping, only 1911 and 1947 have seen three consecutive 100-degree-plus days. Friday featured the longest stretch of triple-digit temperature readings over the three-day period. Starting at 12:51 p.m., temperatures were at or above 100 degrees for more than six hours.

Heat exhaustion, where prolonged exposure to the heat drains body fluids, is the most common illness associated with heat waves.

"It's the body's response to an excessive loss of water and salt contained in sweat," said Dr. Rashmi Chugh, medical officer for the DuPage County Health Department. "In addition to heavy sweating, symptoms of heat exhaustion can include muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and fainting."

Treatment includes getting to a cool place, having a cool, nonalcoholic drink and resting. If symptoms worsen or a person becomes unconscious, seek medical help.

Feldman said only a few cases of heat-related illnesses have been treated in the emergency room at Stroger Hospital in recent days.

"We saw three yesterday and just one today," he said. "These are patients with exhaustion. Usually within a few hours they are able to go home."

Feldman said the area is much more prepared for a severe heat wave than it was in 1995. For one thing, cooling centers have identified for those who don't have air conditioning at home.

"Being in an air-conditioned environment is a big safety factor," the doctor said. "If you don't need to go outside, don't go outside."

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