Soaring temperatures and humidity, bringing heat index numbers into the 90’s, have arrived in the area right on schedule. The Harford County Health Department warns residents to take precautions in hot weather against serious and potentially deadly heat illnesses. Harford County Health Officer Susan Kelly reminds the public about the seriousness of heat illnesses, advising residents to prepare for steadily climbing temperatures and a rising heat index that will only increase over the next few months.
Ms. Kelly states, “Individuals of all ages need to be careful while engaging in outdoors activities or even when exposed for extended periods of time to hot indoor environments. Prolonged exposure to hot and humid weather conditions can result in potentially life-threatening heat-related illnesses and injuries. Persons who are exposed to excessive heat for any length of time, whether indoors or out-of-doors, must know risks and be exceptionally careful.”
Heat illness takes many forms, including heat fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps, heat exhaustion or the most serious, heat stroke. Heat stroke, is an advanced form of heat stress that occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature. Someone with a body temperature above 104 degrees is likely suffering from heat stroke and may have symptoms of confusion, combativeness, strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, faintness, staggering, possible delirium or coma. Seek immediate medical attention for a person with any of these symptoms, especially an older adult.
Basic strategies are key to preventing heat illness and focus on limiting exposure to excessive heat, limiting activity, dressing accordingly in lighter weight clothing, and staying hydrated by drinking more non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluids than usual.
The risk for heat illness is a combination of the outside temperature along with the general health and
lifestyle of the individual. Health-related factors that may increase risk include:
The inability to perspire, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain
heart and blood pressure drugs.
Taking several drugs for various conditions. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed
medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.
Being considerably overweight or underweight
Drinking alcoholic beverages
Age-related changes to the skin such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands
Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever
High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on saltrestricted
diets may be at an increased risk. Salt pills should not be used without first consulting a
Lifestyle factors that also can increase risk include extremely hot living accommodations without cooling
and/or adequate ventilation, lack of transportation, visiting overcrowded places and not understanding how to
respond to changing weather conditions. Individuals at special risk should stay indoors on particularly hot and
humid days, especially when there is an air pollution alert in effect. People without fans or air conditioners
should go to places such as shopping malls, movie theaters, libraries or area cooling centers. For more
information about a cooling center near you, contact your local branch of the Harford County Public Library.
Ms. Kelly also encourages everyone to remember to pay attention to family members, co-workers,
friends, neighbors, and even pets. “Make sure to take necessary precautions, especially if they are young,
elderly, or ill.”
For more information on heat-related illness, visit the Harford County Health Department website at
www.harfordcountyhealth.com or call 410-612-1781 or the National Centers for Disease Control website at
www.cdc.gov. Also, to obtain a free copy of the NIA’s Age Page on hyperthermia in English or in Spanish,
contact the NIA Information Center at 1-800-222-2225 or visit their website at:
www.niapublications.org/agepages/hyperther.asp or www.niapublications.org/agepages/hyperther-sp.asp for
the Spanish-language version.