HARRISBURG – With extremely hot temperatures expected to linger over Pennsylvania for much of this week, Health Secretary Everette James urged Pennsylvanians to take steps to recognize and prevent heat-related illness.
“Those at greatest risk for developing heat-related illness are infants and young children, people over age 65, and those with heart disease, high blood pressure, breathing problems, or chronic conditions,” James said. “However, anyone who participates in outdoor activities in extremely hot weather is at risk of becoming ill.”
Heat stroke, exhaustion, and cramps are the three most common heat-related illnesses. The incidence of these conditions increases when humidity is high because sweat cannot evaporate as quickly, meaning the body cools itself at a much slower rate than usual.
The most severe heat-related illness, heat stroke, occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature due to overheating and, in turn, loses the ability to sweat. Someone suffering from heat stroke may experience a body temperature above 103° F; red, hot, and dry skin; rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; and unconsciousness. If someone is experiencing heat stroke, attempt to cool the person off in a shady place while waiting for emergency medical assistance.
Heat exhaustion can occur after sun exposure or inadequate replenishing of fluids after spending time outside. Symptoms of heat exhaustion are heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and fainting. To treat heat exhaustion, rest, drink water, and cool off the body. If not treated, heat exhaustion may advance to heat stroke.
Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms usually in the arms, leg, or abdomen that typically result from performing strenuous activity in heat. Sweating excessively during physical activity lowers the level of salt in the muscles, which causes cramps. If you experience heat cramps, stop all physical activity and rest for a few hours, and drink clear juice or sports beverages.
James offers the following tips for staying safe whenever temperatures soar:
• Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, which can increase the risk of dehydration;
• Dress in light-colored, loose-fitting clothing;
• If you must be outside, limit your activity to early morning or evening hours when temperatures are cooler;
• Air conditioning is the most effective way to cool off and prevent heat-related illness. If your home is not air-conditioned, try to spend a few hours at a mall or other air-conditioned place to cool off your body;
• Monitor high-risk individuals by checking on elderly neighbors and children; and
• Never leave children or pets in the car.
Across the state, many municipalities and organizations such as senior centers have set up “cooling stations” that allow residents to seek shelter from the heat. Contact your local government for information on cooling station locations.