HARRISBURG – With very hot temperatures and high humidity forecast for much of Pennsylvania in the coming days, the Department of Health is again urging residents – and particularly older adults – to take steps that can help them to avoid serious illness or even death.
Although many of the heat-related deaths reported in recent weeks involved older adults, people of any age can experience heat exhaustion or heat stroke. At greatest risk of illness are people over 65, infants and young children, and those with heart disease, high blood pressure, breathing problems, or chronic conditions.
Heat stroke, which can be fatal, occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature due to overheating and, in turn, loses the ability to sweat. Symptoms include 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, call for emergency medical assistance and try to cool the person off in a shady place.
Heat exhaustion occurs 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. If you experience these symptoms, immediately cool off, rest and drink water. If not treated, heat exhaustion may advance to heat stroke.
Other tips for remaining safe in very hot weather include:
• 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;
• Stay out of the sun. 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, spend a few hours at a mall or other air-conditioned place to cool off;
• Monitor high-risk individuals by checking on elderly neighbors and children; and
• Never leave children or pets in a vehicle.
During heat waves, many communities and organizations such as senior centers set up “cooling stations” offering residents shelter from the heat. Contact your local government for information on cooling station locations.