Hot Temperatures Can Create Serious Health Risks

State Health Department Urges Precautions During Extremely Hot Weather to Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 9, 2011) - New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., cautioned New Yorkers about serious health effects that can arise due to intense heat and humidity, and advised people to take steps to protect themselves during the extreme temperatures being experienced in many areas of the state.

"High temperatures and humidity over extended periods of time can cause serious health problems," Commissioner Shah said. "We strongly urge people to be aware of the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and take some common sense measures to stay cool and healthy during extreme temperatures."

Dr. Shah noted that those most susceptible to high temperatures are the elderly, young children, people who are overweight or obese, individuals with respiratory ailments or chronic medical conditions, and people who work outdoors.

Heat related illnesses occur when the body is unable to cool itself through perspiration. This can lead to:

Heat stroke (or sun stroke) - The most serious heat-related illness that is an emergency and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include hot, dry and red skin; a rapid pulse; a body temperature above 105 degrees F; loss of alertness; confusion; unconsciousness or coma; or rapid/shallow breathing. If any of these symptoms are present, immediately call 911. While waiting for medical assistance to arrive, move the person to a cool place, use an air conditioner or fan, and apply wet sponges. Wrapped ice packs may be placed on the neck, wrists, ankles or armpits to help cool the body temperature.

Heat exhaustion – Often caused by overexertion in hot or humid temperatures, it can quickly lead to heat stroke. Symptoms include heavy sweating; fainting; vomiting; cold, pale and clammy skin; dizziness or headaches; nausea; and weakness. Move the person to a cool, dry place, loosen clothing, and apply cool, wet cloths to the neck, face and arms. Give the person a glass of water every 15 minutes, up to about a quart, and have them sip the water slowly. If vomiting occurs, immediately stop giving the water.

Heat cramps – A person experiencing muscle cramps in the abdominal region or extremities is likely suffering from heat cramps. Symptoms also include heavy sweating and mild nausea. Move the person to a cool place and apply firm pressure to the cramping muscles.

The individual should also try to gently stretch the cramped muscle and hold if for 20 seconds, then massage it gently. Drinking cool water is also advised.

Heat rash – A skin irritation that appears as a red cluster of pimples or small blisters that is the least serious heat-related illness. A person should be moved to a cool place and the affected area should be kept dry. Talcum powder may be used to promote comfort.

The best way to avoid heat-related illnesses is to create a cool, healthy environment at home and avoid spending time in outdoors or in other places where temperatures are high. Recommended tips include:

  • Use air conditioning to cool down, or find an air conditioned building;
  • If air conditioning is not available in the home, open windows and shades on the shady side of the home and close them on the sunny side, which may help cool temperatures inside;
  • Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks;
  • Take cool showers or baths to beat the heat and help keep body temperatures at safe levels;
  • Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day (11 a.m. – 4 p.m.) and take regular breaks from physical activity;
  • Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing;
  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible;
  • Wear sunscreen and a ventilated hat outdoors, even if it seems cloudy;
  • Never leave children, pets or individuals with special needs in a parked car for ANY amount of time since vehicle temperatures can rise to dangerous levels in just a few minutes; and
  • Check on family, friends, and neighbors often to assess their condition, especially elderly persons and those who have special needs.

For additional information on dealing with extreme heat, visit the Department of Health's web site at: or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site at: