NY State Health Department Advises Caution in Hot Weather

Simple precautions can reduce threat of dangerous heat-related illnesses

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 6, 2008) – It's going to be hot and humid this weekend. Protect yourself.

State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today reminded New Yorkers to know the signs of heat-related illness and to protect themselves during hot weather and high humidity. With high temperatures predicted for the days ahead, the state Health Department is offering tips to help keep people cool and safe.

"A few simple measures can reduce heat-related problems, especially for the elderly, the very young, and people with respiratory ailments or chronic medical conditions that make them more susceptible to the effects of high temperatures," said Dr. Daines. "By taking these precautions, potentially dangerous heat-related illnesses – such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion – can be avoided."

During normal weather, the body's internal thermostat produces perspiration that evaporates and cools the body. However, during periods of extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. If the body cannot cool itself, serious illness could result:

  • Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness – it is an emergency that requires immediate action. Symptoms include hot, dry, red skin, rapid pulse, high body temperature (≥ 105 ° F), loss of alertness, confusion, rapid and shallow breathing, and unconsciousness or coma. Emergency 911 should be called immediately. While waiting for assistance, bring the person to a cool place and apply sponges and fans. Wrapped ice packs will help on the neck, wrists, ankles and armpits.
  • Heat exhaustion typically occurs when people over-exert themselves in a warm, humid place. Symptoms include heavy sweating; fainting; vomiting; cold, pale, clammy skin; dizziness, headache, nausea and weakness. Heat exhaustion can quickly lead to heat stroke, so if symptoms worsen or do not improve, get medical help. Move the person to a cool place, loosen clothing and apply cool, wet cloths to the neck, face and arms. Give a half glass of water every 15 minutes (up to about one quart) and encourage the person to sip the water slowly. Stop the water if vomiting occurs.
  • Heat cramps are muscle cramps in the abdominal area or extremities (e.g. arms and legs). They are often accompanied by heavy sweating and mild nausea. Move the person to a cool place, and apply firm pressure to the cramping muscle. The person can also gently stretch the cramped muscle and hold it for 20 seconds, and then gently massage it. Have the person drink some cool water.
  • Heat rash is a skin irritation that looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. Move the person to a cooler place and keep the affected area dry. The person can also use talcum powder to increase comfort.

To protect you and your family during extreme heat, follow the tips below:

  • Use air conditioning to cool down or go to an air-conditioned building.
  • If you don't have air conditioning in your home, open windows and shades on the shady side and close them on the sunny side to try to cool it down.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks.
  • Beat the heat with cool showers and baths.
  • Take regular breaks from physical activity.
  • Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day (between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
  • Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing to help keep cool.
  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible.
  • Wear sunscreen and a ventilated hat (e.g., straw or mesh) when in the sun, even if it is cloudy.
  • Never leave children, pets or those with special needs in a parked car, even briefly. Temperatures in the car can become dangerous within a few minutes.
  • Check on your neighbors, family and friends, especially those who are elderly or have special needs.

In addition, Governor David A. Paterson recently announced cooling assistance for New Yorkers with serious health problems that worsen in extreme heat. Funds are available to eligible individuals for the purchase and installation of energy-efficient air conditioners. To learn more, visit http://www.otda.state.ny.us/main/

When extreme heat strikes, the New York state offices of the National Weather Service (NWS) issue heat advisories, watches and warnings. People can sign up to be notified of heat alerts and other extreme weather advisories via email, text message, phone or fax through NY-Alert, the New York State All-Hazards Alert and Notification web-based portal (www.nyalert.gov). For more information on NWS' heat watch/warning/advisory system, visit: http://www.erh.noaa.gov/er/aly/Heat/HeatDay.htm

For more information on extreme heat and what to do when temperatures rise, visit the DOH webpage at: www.nyhealth.gov/environmental/emergency/weather/hot/.