The National Weather Service developed the heat index to help people identify days when the risk for a heat illness is higher than normal. During a heat wave, the heat index is excessive for many days in a row. Everyone has an increased risk for a heat-related illness during a heat wave.
A heat-related illness can be more serious for:
- Older adults, who may not notice excessive heat, do not sweat as effectively, or do not feel thirsty.
- Small children, who can't transfer heat very well.
- People with chronic medical conditions.
- People taking medicines, such as heart medicines or tranquilizers, for serious psychiatric disorders or depression.
- People with weight problems.
- People with alcohol or drug use problems.
- People with mental health or developmental problems.
Other things that affect a person's risk for a heat-related illness during a heat wave include:
- Living in cities, because heat is trapped by tall buildings and air pollutants.
- Living alone.
- Not having cooling devices, such as fans or air-conditioning.