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High heat, humidity can cause health hazards

July 26, 2005

ATLANTA (GA) – With hotter-than-normal summer temperatures blanketing most of the U.S., the Georgia Department of Human Services wants to remind people of the potential health hazards associated with high heat and humidity.

Prolonged exposure to high ambient temperatures can cause excessive fluid loss and shock and may cause the body's temperature-regulating mechanism to fail causing dangerous elevations of body temperature. Heat-related illnesses -- heat exhaustion and heat stroke -- can be serious and should be treated immediately. People planning outdoor activities should exercise caution, limit activity, and watch themselves and others for signs of heat illness.

“When you combine high heat with high humidity, your body has a harder time cooling itself because sweat does not evaporate as quickly,” said Dr. Stuart Brown, Director of the Division of Public Health. “It’s very important to ‘listen’ to your body, and if you begin to feel weak or dizzy, know that it’s time to take a break, go indoors and cool down.”

Brown said that anyone can be at risk for heat-related illness but the elderly and children can be particularly susceptible. I addition, people who work outdoors or who exercise outdoors need to pay close attention to the warning signs of heat-related illness

Heat exhaustion is the body's response to high temperatures for a long period of time. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, excessive thirst, and feelings of weakness. Persons experiencing heat exhaustion may not sweat due to dehydration and skin may feel cool to the touch. Persons experiencing these symptoms should be moved indoors to a cool place immediately, given water to drink, and cooled in a cool bath or with cool compresses. Consultation with a physician is advised as heat exhaustion may progress quickly to heat stroke.

Heat stroke is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the body can no longer regulate its internal temperature. Symptoms of heat stroke include vomiting, dry, hot, red, or pale skin, headache, mental confusion and disorientation, and loss of consciousness. Emergency medical response (911) should be called immediately for persons experiencing these symptoms. Move the person indoors to a cool place, and cool with cool bath or compresses. Do not give the person fluids.

To minimize the potential for adverse health effects caused by heat and humidity, the Department of Human Resources recommends the following:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water and ice water, and other clear liquids. Sports drinks are especially good because they not only replace fluids, but also replace necessary nutrients lost through sweating.
  • Avoid excessive activity, especially between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. when the sun is highest overhead and the air temperature highest. Excessive outdoor activity can be especially hazardous.
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing that allows air to circulate around the body. When outdoors, be sure to apply plenty of sunscreen to minimize the risk of sunburn. Take extra care with infants and children whose tender skin can burn much faster than adults’. NEVER leave an infant or child or pet in a car when the weather is hot, even with the windows down.
  • Indoors, keep air circulating with fans if you do not have air conditioning. Windows should be opened slightly to allow better air movement, while keeping shades and blinds closed will help keep indoor air temperatures lower. Use air conditioning if you have it.

For more information contact:
Michael Mullet: 404-657-1388
mjmullet@dhr.state.ga.us