Each year heat causes about 400 deaths across the nation according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Serious heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion can be prevented by taking precautionary measures when outside temperatures begin to climb the scale. Chronic conditions such as asthma and other upper respiratory illnesses are also affected by extreme heat conditions and can be managed with appropriate medical care.
With temperatures in Georgia predicted to reach 100 degrees and higher during August, the Department of Human Resources, Division of Public Health encourages individuals to brace themselves and take preventive actions as the weather heats up.
"As Georgia experiences an extreme heat index, it is important for individuals to use caution because high temperatures can cause serious injury and even death," said Dr. Stuart Brown, Director of the Division of Public Health. "Georgians can actually prevent heat related illnesses by following the advice of medical providers, local health departments or other health agencies."
People experience heat-related illness when their body’s temperature control system is overloaded. While the body typically cools itself by sweating, extreme heat conditions affects this process and causes body temperatures to rise rapidly.
High body temperatures may result in damage to the brain or other vital organs. With heat stroke, the most serious heat-related illness, body temperatures may rise to 106 degrees or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can often lead to death or permanent disability if treatment is not provided promptly.
Heat exhaustion, a less serious form of heat-related illness, often develops after several days of exposure to high temperatures and lack of sufficient fluids. Extreme heat conditions also often lead to less severe illnesses including heat cramps and heat rash.
The increase in temperatures across Georgia also affects individuals who suffer from chronic illnesses such as asthma and others who have sensitive respiratory systems.
With no wind or breeze to lower temperatures, relatively stagnant air lingers over many of the state’s cities including Atlanta. This results in an unhealthy air quality index which is associated with respiratory problems. Therefore, residents who have asthma, allergies or other chronic respiratory illnesses are advised to take precautionary measures as well. Bad air quality can lead to strain on the heart as the respiratory system works overtime to provide oxygen to the lungs.
As temperatures continue to rise in Georgia, certain groups need to be especially cautious and take appropriate actions to remain cool. Individuals who at greatest risk of developing heat-related illness include:
- Infants and children up to age four
- People 65 years old and up
- Individuals who are overweight
- Persons who are ill or on certain medications.
- Residents are encouraged to utilize the following tips to remain cool and protect their health when temperatures are extremely high. It is recommended that individuals:
- Drink plenty of fluids despite activity levels and thirstiness
- Wear appropriate clothing that is lightweight and loose-fitting
- Limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours
- Stay in an air-conditioned place. For residents without air-conditioning, contact your local health department for information about heat-relief shelter locations that have opened in collaboration with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA).
For more information about heat-related illness and how to stay healthy during extreme heat conditions, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/Features/ExtremeHeat/.
- Georgia Division of Public Health