New Jersey is experiencing a wave of dangerously hot and humid temperatures. Although most residents go about their daily routines regardless of the unbearable temperatures, the extreme summer heat can cause dangerous health effects.
When body temperatures rise to dangerous levels, the brain and body overheat, resulting in an increased risk for health-related illnesses, stroke, or death.
Everyone is at risk for heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat rash, and sun poisoning (which occurs with severe sunburn) from extreme temperatures.
However, health effects may be more severe in certain groups, including children, older adults, people with chronic illnesses, and people with disabilities.
Athletes, low-income families, outdoor workers, or anyone planning to spend long periods of time outdoors are also at high risk and should be aware of the symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
“Sadly, heat-related deaths and illnesses happen every year,” says Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center.
“Hyperthermia (heat stroke) not only occurs when temperatures reach dangerous levels but also from the use of certain therapeutic medicines, recreational drugs, and illegal substances. These can prevent the body from cooling down through sweating. Too often, this results in serious complications including drug-induced fever, dehydration, and death.”
Although it might seem that heat stroke comes on suddenly, warning signs often appear early on.
Recognizing early symptoms can prevent a tragedy — stomach and muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, weakness, heavy sweat or a lack of sweat, confusion, odd behavior, irritability, delusions, hallucinations, seizures, and coma.
“Excessive heat combined with certain substances like ecstasy (MDMA), cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol, and heroin can be deadly,” Calello said.
“Being under the influence of these substances can make it hard to recognize symptoms of overheating.”
Medicines like antidepressants, antihistamines, diuretics, antipsychotics, and stimulants for ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) can also cause heat-related complications resulting in illness and death.
It’s important to know whether the medicine or drug you are taking increases your sensitivity to heat. Call your local poison control center for more information at 1-800-222-1222.
Prevent Heat-Related Death and Illnesses:
- Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day even if you are not thirsty. Stay away from sugary drinks and alcoholic beverages (including mixed drinks and hard seltzers) as this can cause you to become dehydrated.
- Stay Cool: Avoid direct sun. When possible, stay indoors in air-conditioned areas, especially when the sun is the hottest (early afternoon through early evening).
- Dress Light: The best clothing for extreme heat is light-colored, loose-fitting, and lightweight.
- Wear Sunscreen and Wide-Brimmed Hat: If outside, apply sunscreen liberally and frequently to protect against sunburn and sun poisoning. Sunburn can cause you to become dehydrated. Keep in mind that sweating, swimming, or otherwise being exposed to water will wash away the sunscreen. Remember to reapply sunscreen often.
- Keep Pets Safe: If it is too hot for you, it is too hot for them. Give pets lots of fresh water and keep them indoors in air-conditioned areas as much as possible. Surfaces in the direct sun get dangerously hot. If it’s too hot to touch, they shouldn’t be walking on it. Give them a shaded area outside.
- Hot Cars Kill: Leaving people and pets in hot, parked cars is deadly. Even cars parked in the shade with open windows reach deadly internal temperatures. Never leave them inside.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency – it is critical that you act fast. Contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. If someone is not breathing, is hard to wake up, or having a seizure, call 9-1-1.
If you think someone is feeling sick from dangerous outdoor temperatures or the person has come in contact with something potentially dangerous, contact your local poison control center immediately.
Medical specialists are available to answer questions, provide information and emergency support 24 hours a day.
Anyone can call for medical help – children, teens, and adults. Poison control centers are a medical resource for both the public and healthcare providers.
Call the NJ Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
If someone is not breathing, is hard to wake up, or having a seizure, call 9-1-1