With Maine heading into several more days of high temperatures and humidity, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said it’s important to prevent heat-related problems and to recognize early the signs of heat illness.

“Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable, yet over the past 30 years more people have died in this country from heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined,” said Mills. “All Mainers should take the simple measures of keeping cool, drinking adequate fluids and lying low to prevent heat-related illness.”

Mills said people most susceptible include infants and young children, adults older than 65, people with mental illness and those physically ill with chronic illnesses such as heart disease or high blood pressure.

It’s important, said Mills, for family and friends to check on people at higher risk, especially if they live alone.

High temperatures can contribute to poor air quality, which disproportionately affects people with lung or heart conditions. People may check for air quality advisories at maine.gov/dep/air/.

Mills urged summer camp counselors to pay attention to the conditions. “It is important for coaches and counselors to make sure children and youth are given frequent rest breaks and are drinking plenty of fluids,’’ she said. “Camp participants should be encouraged to take a fluid or rest break whenever they desire. Strenuous camp activities should also be curtailed because of these unhealthy weather conditions.”

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 can result.

“With heat waves not being as common in Maine as in many other places, we need to pay close attention to these simple measures. Keeping cool, drinking adequate fluids and lying low as well as recognizing heat-related illnesses early and looking after our neighbors, families, and friends will allow us to stay healthy during heat waves this summer,” said Mills.

Some measures for all to consider:

Keep cool

• Use air conditioning to cool down or go to an air-conditioned building such as a store, a library or cooling center.
•  If there isn’t air conditioning at home, open windows and shades on the shady side and close them on the sunny side.
• Take a cool shower or bath.
•  Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
•  Stay out of the sun as much as possible.
•  Wear sunscreen and a ventilated hat when in the sun, even if it’s cloudy.
•  Never leave children, pets or those with special needs in a parked car, even briefly. Temperatures can become dangerous within a few minutes. Even with the windows rolled down two inches, it takes 10 minutes for the inside of a vehicle to reach deadly temperatures on a hot summer day.

Drink fluids

• Drink more fluids regardless of activity level.
• Avoid alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks, since these cause the body to lose more body fluid.
• If on fluid restrictions or diuretics, ask a doctor how much fluid to drink.

Lie low

• Take regular breaks from necessary physical activity – at least hourly.
•  Avoid strenuous activity between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m..

For those who must be in the heat

•  Limit outdoor activity, if possible, to morning and evening hours.
•  Cut down on exercise. Drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace salt and minerals lost in sweat. If on a low-salt diet, talk with a doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
• Rest often in shady areas – at least every hour.
• Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and put on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on labels).

Serious heat-related illnesses include:

Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. Body temperatures can reach dangerous levels. Warning signs include hot, dry, red skin (no sweating), rapid pulse, high body temperature (greater than or equal to 105 F), headache, loss of alertness, confusion, rapid and shallow breathing, and unconsciousness or coma. Emergency 911 should be called immediately. While waiting for assistance, cool the person rapidly with such methods as moving them to a shady or cooler area, using cool water, ice, fans, and loosening their clothing.

Heat exhaustion typically occurs when people over-exert themselves in high heat and humidity. Symptoms include heavy sweating, fainting, vomiting, cold, pale, and clammy skin, dizziness, headache, nausea and weakness. Move the person to a cool place, have them drink fluids and rest, loosen their clothes and cool them off with water or wet cloths. Heat exhaustion can quickly lead to heat stroke so if symptoms worsen or do not improve, get medical help.

Heat cramps are muscle cramps in the abdominal area or extremities (e.g. arms and legs) that often occur in people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity and as a result their muscles lose salt and moisture. Cramps are often accompanied by heavy sweating and mild nausea. Move the person to a cool place to rest, and apply firm pressure to the cramping muscle. The person can gently stretch the cramped muscle and hold it for 20 seconds, then gently massage it. Have the person drink cool beverages, such as water or a sports drink. The person should seek medical attention if there is no improvement or if s/he has underlying medical problems.

Sunburn damages the skin and causes the skin to become red, painful, and warm after sun exposure. Medical attention should be sought if the sunburn affects an infant or if there is fever, fluid-filled blisters, or severe pain. Otherwise, the person should avoid sun exposure, apply cold compresses or immerse the burned skin in cool water, apply moisturizing lotion to the burn.

Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot humid weather and is most common in young children. The rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters and is most common in the neck and upper chest and in creases such as in the elbow and groin. Move the person to a cooler place and keep the affected area dry. The person can use talcum powder to increase comfort.

For more information:

Maine DEP Air Quality — maine.gov/dep/air/

Heat Index Forecast — hpc.ncep.noaa.gov/heat_index_MAX/hiprob95_day3.html

Heat Index Calculator — crh.noaa.gov/jkl/?n=heat_index_calculator

US CDC Extreme Heat Prevention Guide — emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp

US CDC Heat in the Elderly — emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/elderlyheat.asp

National Weather Service Heat Wave Guide — nws.noaa.gov/om/brochures/heat_wave.shtml

National Alliance on Mental Illness Heat Effects Communication — nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=20065&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=35581