Harrisburg, PA – The Department of Health urges all Pennsylvanians to wear sunscreen and take additional steps to protect yourself and others from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation and potentially deadly heat-related illnesses.
“We want people to practice safe habits when going outside and enjoying the summer months – after all, the sun’s UV rays can damage our skin in as little as 15 minutes,” Secretary of Health Dr. Levine said. “In addition to wearing cloth masks when you step outside, we encourage everyone to apply and reapply sunscreen often. Extreme heat poses a danger to all Pennsylvanians, and we urge everyone to protect themselves from harmful UV radiation and stay hydrated to prevent heat-related illnesses.”
The Department of Health partners with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to offer visitors free sunscreen when visiting state park beaches and swimming pools throughout Pennsylvania. Throughout the summer season, state park staff will oversee and maintain sunscreen dispensers. Two pole-mounted, battery-operated dispensers, supplying 30+ SPF BrightGuard sunscreen applications, will be positioned at each park.
Exposure to UV radiation can cause numerous health effects like skin cancer, cataracts and eye cancer. Types of skin cancer include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.
Melanoma is also one of the most common cancers in Pennsylvania, with nearly 3,475 new cases in 2017. One in 43 Pennsylvanians are at risk of developing melanoma in their lifetime. While nearly 90 percent of people who develop melanoma survive, in 2017, 403 people died from this cancer.
Melanomas often resemble moles, and some even develop from moles. This is why it is so important to constantly monitor your body and be aware of any changes. If you have a mole that seems abnormal or is changing, have it looked at by a physician. Melanoma that is recognized and treated early is almost always curable. If not detected early, it can spread and be fatal.
When experiencing high temperatures, heat stroke and heat exhaustion are two serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses that can occur.
Symptoms of a heat stroke include a high body temperature; red, hot and dry skin, but no sweating; a rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; and unconsciousness. If you think someone is having a heat stroke, it is important to first call 9-1-1. After calling for help, get the person to a shady area and quickly cool them down by putting them in a tub of cool water or spraying them with a garden hose. You should not give the victim any fluids, including water, to drink.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, fainting, and nausea or vomiting. Help the person cool off and seek medical attention if symptoms are severe, symptoms last more than one hour, or the victim has heart problems or high blood pressure.
Although staying inside with air conditioning as often as possible is best way to prevent heat-related illnesses, it is not always possible. The Department of Health urges Pennsylvanians to follow these safety tips to overcome summer heat:
- Drink plenty of water and do not wait until you are thirsty to drink more fluids;
- Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar, as they can cause dehydration (loss of body fluids);
- Avoid long periods in the direct sun or in unventilated rooms;
- Use SPF 30 sunscreen or higher and reapply at least every two hours;
- If you must be outside in the heat, reschedule activities for cooler times of the day, and try to rest often in shady areas;
- Dress in light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses
- Take frequent baths or showers and remain in a cool place;
- Check on those who might be more at risk from high temperatures like infants, children, or older individuals; and
- Never leave your children or pets inside vehicles.
If someone doesn’t have air conditioning in their home, it would be wise to turn on fans to circulate the air, open windows and use blinds and curtains to limit sun exposure. Entering crowded stores and buildings to cool down is not recommended in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Local officials may open cooling centers during extreme heat waves, or direct you to facilities that are open to the public. To find a cooling center near you, please contact your county emergency management agency as they have pre-identified places available to cool off. Many times, these are accessible locations that residents are already familiar with, like senior centers and fire companies. While visiting cooling centers, residents need to protect themselves and others by maintaining social distancing and wearing a cloth face mask, unless someone is having trouble breathing, or are unconscious or injured. Cooling shelters may need to take your temperature or ask questions about how you are feeling to ensure residents are staying safe in extreme heat.
Local Area Agencies on Aging are ready to assist older adults facing dangerously hot weather. Area Agencies on Aging offer a broad range of services, including help with transporting older adults to cooler locations such as a local church or senior center. Find a local Area Agency on Aging here.
Consistent mask wearing is critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19, so it is critical to wear cloth masks that are comfortable and breathable while going outside in summer weather. If masks become damp or wet, the effectiveness may be compromised. The Department of Health suggests to have multiple masks available to change and clean after use, or as necessary. For more information on how to create a mask, visit our website.