The extreme heat and humidity that settled over much of the East Coast this week has been less intense here in Maine. Still, public health officials are warning Maine residents and visitors to use common sense to prevent heat-related illness and injury.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory earlier this week urging people to take precautions against the heat with special concern for certain groups that are at higher risk. According to the advisory, Mainers should take hot weather seriously.
“Extreme heat is rare in Maine, but its effects may be even more dangerous because Maine citizens are not physically acclimated to heat and because many homes and businesses are not air conditioned,” the advisory reads.
Temperatures in the Bangor area are likely to top 90 degrees on both Friday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service, with humidity staying high despite some periods of relief as occasional thunderstorms pass through. Things are likely to cool off on Sunday, but more hot weather is inevitable as the summer goes on.
Here are some ways you can minimize the risk of hot-weather illness or injury:
• Keep cool. Stay inside and out of the sun. Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Spend time in air-conditioned spaces — a public library, church, shopping mall, grocery store, restaurant, movie theater or community center if your home is not air-conditioned. Take a cool shower or bath, use electric fans and spritz your skin with cool water.
• Drink fluids. Drink more fluids then you normally would, regardless of your activity level. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks. Plain water is the most effective and least expensive beverage. Add ice and a slice of lemon or lime if you want to dress it up. Fruit juices and sports drinks can help replace minerals lost in heavy sweating, but heavily caffeinated “energy drinks” promote dehydration and put added stress on the heart.
• Lie low. Take breaks from physical activity at least every hour. Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
• Limit activity if you must be outside. Reduce your outdoors activity level. If possible, limit your activity to early morning and evening hours. If you work outdoors or in a hot place, drink one cup of cool, nonalcoholic fluid every 20 minutes. Take frequent rest breaks in shady or air-conditioned places.
• Look out for others who may be vulnerable. Elderly people, the homeless, those who live alone, infants and young children, people who work outside and those with underlying health conditions and mental illness are most at risk, along with people who abuse drugs and alcohol. Check a few times a day on neighbors, friends and family who may be more susceptible to the heat.
At the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter on Main Street, executive director Dennis Marble said sunburn and dehydration pose the greatest threat to his clients during summer weather. The shelter is able to provide people with bottled water and sunscreen, thanks to community donations, he said. In addition, the shelter is open during the day for drop-in guests and the noontime meal is open to the public.
Marble said perhaps the most vulnerable homeless people are those who camp out in secluded areas and drink or use drugs. Substance abuse itself promotes sun sensitivity and dehydration, he noted, and also makes it less likely that people will recognize they are getting in trouble.
Dr. Charles Pattavina, chief of emergency medicine at St. Joseph Hospital, said the recent warm weather has not caused any surge of activity in the emergency department. But many conditions, including breathing disorders, diabetes and heart disease, can be made worse by heat and humidity.
Some medications, including specific antibiotics and medications used to manage mental health conditions, also make people more vulnerable to the hot weather, he said.
The most serious heat-related illnesses are heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, dizziness, nausea and vomiting or fainting. People with these symptoms should be helped to a cool place, given water or a sports beverage to drink, and urged to seek medical attention.
The main sign of heat stroke is elevated body temperature — generally greater than 104 degrees — and changes in mental status ranging from personality changes to confusion and unconsciousness. Skin may be hot and dry. Heatstroke is a medical emergency and may quickly result in death. The victim should be wrapped in cool wet towels or sheets while awaiting an ambulance.
For more on heat and health, visit the Maine CDC’s website.