July 19, 2011

PA Health Department Offers Important Tips to Prevent Heat-Related Illness

HARRISBURG, Pa., July 19, 2011/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With "feels-like" temperatures approaching or exceeding 100 degrees forecast for parts of Pennsylvania this week, the Department of Health is reminding all Pennsylvanians of important steps they can take to protect their health.

"According to the National Weather Service, afternoon heat indices may reach 100 degrees - and possibly higher - between Thursday and Saturday," said Health Secretary Dr. Eli Avila. "We are encouraging all residents - and especially older adults - to take steps to avoid heat-related illnesses."

To keep cool, residents are encouraged to do the following:

  • 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;
  • Limit outdoor activities to early morning or evening hours when temperatures tend to be cooler;
  • Spend time in air-conditioned areas as much as possible to effectively cool down, preventing heat-related illnesses;
  • Monitor high-risk individuals by checking on elderly neighbors and children; and
  • Never leave children or pets in vehicles.

Infants and young children, people over age 65, and those with heart disease, high blood pressure, breathing problems or chronic conditions are at greatest risk for developing heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, exhaustion and cramps. The incidence of these conditions increases when humidity is high, because sweat cannot evaporate as quickly and the body cools itself at a much slower rate than typical.

Heat stroke, the most severe heat-related illness, 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 degrees 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 not replenishing 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 plenty of water and cool off the body. If not treated, heat exhaustion could result in heat stroke.

Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms usually in the arms, legs, 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, cease all physical activity and rest. Be sure to drink clear juice or sports drinks.

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 Area Agency on Aging for information on cooling station locations. Visit the Department of Aging online at www.aging.state.pa.us.

For more information and hot weather safety tips, visit www.health.state.pa.us.

Media contact: Christine Cronkright or Brandi Hunter-Davenport, 717-787-1783

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Health