South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

Rising temperatures and humidity prompt health alert from county


August 7, 2007

The Allegheny County Health Department is warning that extreme heat and humidity in the forecast can pose serious health problems for the elderly, infants and children up to the age of four, the overweight, people who work or exercise outdoors, and people with heart or respiratory problems.

Heat-related illness occurs when the body's temperature control system is overloaded.  The body normally cools itself by sweating, but sometimes this cooling mechanism breaks down and the body temperature rises rapidly, triggering heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion is the body's response to an excessive loss of water and salt contained in sweat.  Warning signs include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting and fainting.  Seek medical attention immediately, if the symptoms are severe or if the person has heart problems or high blood pressure. Otherwise, help the victim cool off, and seek medical attention if the symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.

Heat stroke, a more serious and potentially life-threatening condition, occurs when the body is unable to control its temperature and the sweating mechanism fails.  Warning signs may include an extremely high body temperature (above 103F); red, hot and dry skin, due to no sweating; a rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea, confusion; and unconsciousness.  Death or permanent disability may result without emergency treatment.  Cool the victim rapidly by any means available until paramedics arrive.

These precautions are recommended to minimize the risk of heat-related illness:

• Stay cool indoors, preferably in an air-conditioned environment. Fans don't help much when temperatures are in the 90s.  A cool bath or shower is a more effective way to cool off, if you don't have air conditioning.  Better yet, visit someplace that does, such as a senior center, theater, mall or neighbor's house.

• Drink plenty of fluids, at least eight cups a day, but not alcoholic or caffeinated drinks which actually cause you to lose more fluids.  Avoid hot foods and heavy meals, which add heat to your body.

• Wear lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing.  A wide-brimmed hat provides shade and helps keep the head cool.  Sunscreen can prevent sunburn, which can affect your body's ability to cool itself and also cause a loss of body fluids.

• Avoid strenuous physical activity, particularly during the hotter part of the day.

• Never leave a child, or a pet, in a vehicle alone on a hot day. A child may become disoriented in just five minutes, unconscious in 10 and brain-damaged in 20.

• Use the buddy system and check on the elderly and the infirm who do not have air conditioning and are less able to take care of themselves.


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