Staying healthy in the heat after record July in Harford

July was not only dubbed the hottest July on record for the Baltimore area by the National Weather Service, but also the hottest month ever.

There was some slight break in the weather Monday afternoon into Monday night, as scattered thunderstorm cells moved across much of Harford, often accompanied by cracking bolts of lightning that were visible for miles, even in places where much of the sky was still clear.

No significant damage was reported from the storms.

Although NWS did not have exact temperatures for Harford County, a press release reported that the monthly average temperature of 81.7 degrees barely beat out records dating back to July 1872 of 81.5 degrees.

July 2011 also had 24 days where the temperature was at 90 degrees or higher, according to the press release, boasting the most number of days in any month with those temperatures.

This past Friday alone, July 29, was recorded by the NWS at 101 degrees for the Baltimore area.

High temperatures like that are not only inconvenient, but dangerous as well, according to William Wiseman, public information officer for the Harford County Health Department.

People in certain age groups or with health-related issues are at a particular risk, he wrote in an e-mail, and they should take extra caution when temperatures rise.

This includes adults 65 and older, infants and children four years old and younger, as well as overweight individuals and those on certain medications, he reported.

In the event of extreme heat, according to Wiseman, the body tries to cool itself by sweating. The humid Maryland summers, however, can hinder that process as high humidity prevents the sweat from evaporating and releasing heat as quickly.

Certain medications, too, can cause the inability to perspire, Wiseman wrote, including sedatives, diuretics and some heart and blood pressure medicines. Diseases such as heart, lung or kidney also "compromise the body's ability to regulate temperature."

In situations where the body does indeed fail to expel heat, Wiseman wrote that heat stroke is the most serious illness related to high temperatures.

A health department fact sheet, too, reported that most people who get heat stroke die, with symptoms including a high body temperature, "bizarre behavior," and dry flushed skin, among others.

There are several other heat-related illnesses to be wary of, the health department web page reported, including heat syncope, which occurs when a person faints after exercising in the heat.

Wiseman also offered tips on combating the heat and staying healthy, including heading to air-conditioned places, such as libraries or a cooling center, if a person does not have his or her own air-conditioning or fans.

Older people, he added, don't typically want to pay for air-conditioning so they rely on fans. In some cases, however, they fail to open any windows when using fans, essentially turning their house into a "convection oven."

"It can really cause tremendous problems in a house," Wiseman said, later adding people have already died this summer because of heat.

Aside from staying indoors, which is especially important for people at risk for heat-related illnesses, Wiseman suggested that people:

Limit exposure to excessive heat, whether indoors or outdoors

Limit activity

Dress in lighter-weight and lighter-colored fabrics to reflect the heat

Stay hydrated by drinking more non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic fluids than usual

"It really amounts to staying in a cool place and getting out of the heat," Wiseman said.

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