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As temperatures continue to rise, the National Weather Service is offering tips on how to remain safe and cool

As the mercury rises, so does the health threat. The National Weather Service has stepped up its efforts to alert the public to the dangers of prolonged hot weather and take steps to keep cool. Heat is directly responsible for about 175 deaths in...

As the mercury rises, so does the health threat.

The National Weather Service has stepped up its efforts to alert the public to the dangers of prolonged hot weather and take steps to keep cool.

Heat is directly responsible for about 175 deaths in the United States each year. During a particularly hot summer or lengthy heat wave, the toll can be even higher.

Who is most vulnerable to heat-related illness and death: the elderly, small children, people who are chronically ill, people who are taking certain medications such as tranquilizers, and people with weight or alcohol problems.

Heat-related illness occurs when the body is taxed beyond its ability to shed heat.

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It can be avoided by taking the following precautions:

- Reduce or eliminate strenuous outdoor activities, or reschedule them to a cooler time of the day. Individuals at risk should stay in the coolest available place, which may not necessarily be indoors.

- Dress appropriately. Lightweight, light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight and can help the body maintain normal temperatures.

- Drink plenty of water or other non-alcohol fluids. Even if you don't feel thirsty, your body needs water to keep cool. Individuals who have epilepsy or heart, kidney or liver disease, who are on fluid-restrictive diets or who have issues with fluid retention should check with a physician before increasing their fluid intake.

- Spend more time in air-conditioned places. Individuals who don't have air conditioning at home can go to a mall, library, movie theater or other public place to help stay cool. Spending at least some time each day in an air-conditioned environment can help reduce the risk of heat-related illness.

- Don't get too much sun. Sunburn makes it harder for the body to dissipate heat.

What are the warning signs of heat-related illness and what you should do?

Heat cramps are heat-induced spasms of the legs and abdomen. The person may also sweat heavily. Firm pressure on the cramping muscles, or gentle massage, can help relieve the spasms. Offer sips of water; discontinue if the person becomes nauseous.

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Signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, weakness, skin that's pale, cold and clammy, and fainting and vomiting. Victims should be removed from the sun and lain down with loosened clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. If possible, fan the victim or move him or her to an air-conditioned place. Offer sips of water unless the victim becomes nauseous. Seek medical attention if vomiting occurs.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency that can be fatal if not treated promptly. Assistance should be sought immediately. With heat stroke, the body's temperature can soar dangerously high, to 105 degrees F. or higher. Symptoms include hot dry skin, a strong and rapid pulse and loss of consciousness.

While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, the person should be moved to a cooler environment if possible. Keep the person lying down. Cool water baths and fans can help lower body temperature.

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