Health Officials Urge Residents to Stay Cool, Stay Hydrated and Stay Informed
Source: Lord Fairfax Health District
Extremely high temperatures are predicted in the Valley for the next several days, especially on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with highs in the upper 90s. The health district reminds residents that extreme heat requires protective actions. Hot temperatures, high humidity and exposure to the direct sun can cause ill health effects.
“We encourage all residents to take precautions to protect against heat-related illness and painful sunburn,” said District Health Director Dr. Colin Greene.
Heat and humidity can cause harmful health effects by unnaturally elevating the body temperature and causing dehydration. The body normally cools itself by radiating heat from the skin, convection from breathing, and by the cooling effects of evaporating sweat. As the air temperature approaches body temperature, the first two work less efficiently, and in high humidity, sweat does not evaporate as well. Increased sweating also worsens fluid loss. Extreme heat is a leading cause of weather-related death in the United States. Staying cool, hydrated and informed can save lives.
The people most at risk are the elderly, those who work or exercise outdoors, infants and children, the homeless or poor, and people with chronic medical conditions, especially if they are not in an air-conditioned environment. If you know someone in this situation, check to see how he or she is doing during periods of excessive heat.
Here are steps you can take to protect yourself and others against heat-related illnesses:
- If possible, avoid the heat entirely. Consider canceling or postponing outdoor activities involving physical exertion on the hottest days. Stay indoors in air-conditioned areas where you can; spending even two hours per day in air conditioning significantly reduces the risk of heat-related illnesses. When temperatures reach the upper 90’s or above, a fan may not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or a bath will also help.
- If you must be outside, schedule or reschedule activities and outdoor work for the coolest parts of the day, such as early morning. Sunlight and high heat exposure are greatest between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Seek shade whenever possible.
- Drink plenty of fluids, about a quart for each hour spent outside. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which can increase fluid loss. To replace salt and minerals lost from sweating, drink fruit juice or a sports beverage every other glass or so. Talk to your doctor first if you’re on a fluid-restricted diet or medications, or on a low-salt diet. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast.
- Sunburn is a common problem during the late spring and summer. Even one severe sunburn can increase the risk of future skin cancers and hasten age-related skin changes. Where possible, stand or sit in the shade. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, and be fashionable with a broad-brimmed hat. Apply high-SPF sunscreen to any exposed skin. Don’t forget hands, as well as feet, if you wear sandals.
- Never leave children or pets alone in a car for any period of time, even with the air-conditioning on or the windows cracked. Temperatures inside a car can reach more than 150 degrees quickly, resulting in heat stroke and death.
- Use the “buddy system” if you’re spending time outside, and watch each other for signs of heat-related illness (see below).
- Check on your neighbors. Although anyone can suffer heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others are. People aged 65 or older are particularly susceptible to heat-related illnesses and complications that can result during periods of high temperatures and humidity.
- Stay informed by monitoring for heat-related notices issued by the National Weather Service.
- Signs of heat exhaustion include excessive sweating, cool, clammy skin, dizziness, fatigue, headache and muscle cramps. Anyone experiencing those symptoms must be promptly removed from the heat and hydrated until symptoms resolve. Signs of heat stroke include severe headache, warm, dry skin without sweating despite the heat, and changes in mental status or behavior. Heat Stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency. If you suspect heat stroke, dial 911, remove the person from the heat, and take immediate measures to cool them.
For more information about heat-related illnesses, visit the Virginia Department of Health’s website at www.vdh.virginia.gov/Weather/ExtremeHeat.htm.
The Lord Fairfax Health District serves residents in the city of Winchester and Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties. For more information, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/lord-fairfax/.