After a cool spring in King County, warmer weather is finally on the way. As we look forward to temperatures in the mid-80s and low 90s this weekend, the sudden change from cooler weather can create health risks for many people.
Our bodies may be more sensitive to heat when they haven’t had a chance to adjust to warmer temperatures. And people flock to rivers and lakes when the weather turns warm—but the shock from unexpectedly cold water can lead to accidental drowning.
You can prepare for the heat this weekend by knowing if you or your loved ones are more sensitive to heat, paying attention to any signs that you are overheating, and being careful around cold water.
Avoid cold water shock
Rivers run faster and colder when hot weather begins and snow melts in the mountains. Flooding this winter also changed the shape of many waterways and swimming holes in our region, which may now be deeper or have a stronger current.
“Cold shock” can happen when you enter cold water, changing your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. This creates a risk of drowning even for experienced swimmers in calm water.
Wear a life jacket near water, keep an eye on children, and know the signs of hypothermia—shivering, slow movements, numbness, and cold feet and hands. Use this map to find an affordable life jacket near you, and learn more about cold water safety at weather.gov/safety/coldwater.
Check if you’re at higher risk in the heat
Even when temperatures aren’t very hot, some people are at higher risk for serious health problems on warmer days:
- Adults aged 65 and older
- Young children (especially at high risk in parked cars)
- People with chronic health conditions or mental illness
- People living unsheltered or homeless
- Outdoor workers
- Athletes who exercise outdoors
If you are at higher risk, be extra careful to stay cool, drink water, and take breaks if you’re feeling overheated.
Some medications can make it harder to stay hydrated and control body temperature in the heat, including those for allergies and colds, thyroid, depression, heart/blood pressure, and weight loss. Ask your doctor if you may be more sensitive to heat.
With the sudden rise in temperatures this weekend, please also remember to check on family and neighbors who may be more vulnerable to heat.
Recognize and respond to heat exhaustion
It might not be that hot, but when you’re adjusting to the sudden change in temperature, you might be more sensitive. Pay attention to how you’re feeling and make sure you drink plenty of water.
Heat exhaustion can happen when your body isn’t able to cool itself quickly enough. Symptoms include muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, and vomiting. If you have any of these symptoms, move to the shade or indoors, put your feet up and rest, and drink lots of water.
Remember to pay attention to how young children, older loved ones, and pets are doing. NEVER leave them in a parked car in warmer weather. Cars can get dangerously hot in seconds when temperatures are in the upper 70s and low 80s.
Visit kingcounty.gov/BeatTheHeat for more tips on staying cool in the heat. (Information is available in Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese.)
Contributor Ken Anderson, who specializes in risk communications at Public Health—Seattle & King County. This article originally appeared on May 11, 2023, in Public Health Insider.