Temperatures are climbing this week as summer arrives, and the National Weather Service has issued a Heat Advisory for most of Central and Eastern North Carolina. Public health officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services are advising North Carolinians take precautions to protect themselves and their children from heat-related illness as temperatures across the state rise and remain high throughout the summer.
Prolonged exposure to heat can lead to dehydration, overheating, heat illness and even death. The North Carolina Heat Report shows there were 787 emergency department visits for heat-related illness from May 1 to June 13, with the most frequent heat-related diagnosis being heat exhaustion. Visits to emergency departments frequently increase with spikes in the heat index. It is important to pay attention to the weather if spending time outside working or participating in recreation activities outdoors.
Patients presenting at emergency departments with heat-related illnesses are mostly male, ages 25 to 64, and most have been seen in hospitals in North Carolina’s Piedmont and Coastal regions.
Parents are advised to never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, not even for a few minutes; temperatures inside a car rapidly increase and can reach dangerous and fatal temperatures in as little as 10 minutes. In the United States, approximately 38 children under the age of 15 die each year from heatstroke after being left in a vehicle.
Individuals should stay wary of signs of heat-related illness. Symptoms include muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, fainting, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Children, adults 65 and older, those without access to air conditioning, outdoor workers and those with chronic health conditions are most vulnerable.
To reduce the risk of heat-related illness:
- Increase fluid intake.
- Take frequent breaks in cool and shady or air-conditioned places if spending extended time outside.
- Reduce normal activity levels.
- Speak with your physician about how to stay safe if you take medicines that make you more vulnerable to heat, such as tranquilizers or drugs for high blood pressure, migraines, allergies, muscle spasms and mental illness.
- Check on neighbors, and if working outdoors, check on your co-workers.
- Never leave children or pets unattended in vehicles, especially during warm or hot weather, as temperature levels inside a car can reach a deadly level in a matter of minutes.
If you or someone you know experiences heat-related illness, move to a cool place, drink water, place cold cloths on the body and seek medical attention. Additionally, there may be cooling assistance available for those who are eligible:
- The Crisis Intervention Program is a federally funded program that assists individuals and families who are experiencing a heating or cooling related crisis. Check eligibility and apply by contacting your local Department of Social Services until June 30, 2022.
- Operation Fan Heat Relief is a summer program intended to provide a more comfortable living environment and reduce heat related illnesses for older adults and adults with disabilities. The program runs through Oct. 31, 2022. For more information, call your local Area Agency on Aging.
For more information on how to prevent heat-related health issues, additional data or to sign up to receive the weekly North Carolina Heat Report via email, go to epi.dph.ncdhhs.gov/oee/climate/heat.html.