With the anticipated high temperatures to come this week, the St. Mary’s County Health Department would like to remind citizens of the dangers of heat illness.  Heat illness can develop from the hot and humid conditions typically associated with Maryland summers.  Heat illness is a spectrum of heat-related conditions, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  Dehydration may increase the risk or accelerate the development of heat illness.

Heat exhaustion is part of the heat illness spectrum; symptoms include weakness, muscle cramps, nausea, headache, vomiting, and feeling lightheaded.  Heat exhaustion is treated with plenty of non-alcoholic liquids and rest in a cool, shaded area.  Those on a low-sodium diet or with other health problems should contact a doctor.

Heat stroke is a life threatening emergency on the heat illness spectrum, and occurs when core body temperature rises rapidly because of the body’s failing ability to sweat or cool down.  If not addressed adequately, heat exhaustion and other milder forms of heat illness can progress to heat stroke.  Warning signs of heat stroke include dry, red skin (no sweating), confusion, throbbing headache, and nausea.  When heat stroke is suspected, cooling measures should be started immediately while a designated person calls 9-1-1.  Treatment of heat stroke involves the rapid lowering of body temperature by immediately placing the individual in a cold water/ice bath or shower if available; placing ice packs or cold towels to the neck, underarms, and groin area if a cold bath/shower is not immediately available; ensuring the person is moved to a shady area; and monitoring body temperature to ensure it improves while waiting for emergency medical services.

“St. Mary’s County residents should be aware that prevention and preparation are keys to avoiding heat related illness,” said Dr. Meena Brewster, Health Officer.  “Stay hydrated, avoid prolonged periods in hot weather conditions and, when exercising outdoors, exercise during cooler times of the day.” 

Young children, pregnant women, persons with chronic medical conditions, and older adults are particularly susceptible to heat illness and should take extra precautions.  The Health Department reminds residents that a Heat Emergency Preparedness Plan is in place for senior citizens in the event of a heat emergency.  If needed, cooling centers may be designated at local facilities. 

“Our elderly residents are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illness,” stated Dr. Brewster.  “It is vital that we check on elderly family members and neighbors regularly during periods of extreme heat.”    

The following precautions should be taken during hot weather: