As the temperature rises, our free time begins to revolve more around enjoying outside activities. Excessive heat warnings, heat advisories and air quality alerts become commonplace, but it is easy to overlook the threat that excessive heat can pose to our health.
Stay Safe… Hydrate!
According to the CDC, extreme heat kills more than 600 people per year. Many deaths could be prevented if people paid attention to warning signs that lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Dehydration occurs when a person’s body loses more fluids than it takes in. “The main symptom of dehydration is thirst, but you may notice other signs such as dizziness, dry mouth, or lightheadedness,” says Dr. Christopher Robles, Family Medicine and Primary Care, White Plains Hospital Physician Associates. “There are two types of dehydration. The first, chronic dehydration, is common among seniors. Older people lose their thirst reflex as they get older – they say they’re not thirsty when they in fact need to be more hydrated. The second and more common form of dehydration is prevalent among weekend athletes, hikers, and people who work outdoors.”
Young children are at a much greater risk of dehydration than adults because they sweat less and their smaller bodies heat up faster. While staying hydrated is key, getting enough potassium is also essential to good health. “Potassium is important because it helps muscles contract. It plays a role in maintaining fluid levels and regulating blood pressure,” notes Dr. Robles. “One way to stay hydrated and get the potassium your body needs is by eating watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and other foods that have a high water content.”
Look Out for Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body’s internal temperature rises and is unable to cool itself down. Its many tell-tale symptoms include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, nausea and extreme thirst.
“You don’t want to leave a person with heat exhaustion on their own. Their condition could progress into heat stroke,” says Dr. Robles. “To help cool the body down you can apply cold packs to the groin, neck and armpits. Convection cooling, spraying water on the skin and drying it with a fan is also effective because as the water evaporates in removes heat from the body.”
When Heat Stroke Strikes
It's important to know that heat exhaustion is often the precursor to heat stroke, the most serious heat-related illness. The body's core temperature superheats, causing confusion, slurred speech, vomiting and a rapid, strong, pulse. Unlike heat exhaustion, in which a person sweats profusely, someone with heat stroke is unable to sweat and may lose consciousness.
“Vomiting is often the first sign of heat stroke. A person with heat stroke requires immediate medical attention, so call 9-1-1,” says Dr. Robles. “You might think you could help someone with heat stroke by giving them water, but that’s the worst thing you could do. Their body may not be able to tolerate it.”
Dr. Robles says there are many other ways to protect you and your loved ones from the heat, including:
- Hydrating at least 24-48 hours before spending long periods outside in the extreme heat
- Taking water with you when you go out
- Wearing loose-fitting, breathable, and light-colored clothing
- Avoiding alcohol, coffee, tea and salty foods that can make dehydration worse
- Limiting strenuous outdoor activities
Finally, don’t forget your pets! They can quickly get dehydrated as well so it is important to make sure water is always available, especially when you leave the house.
Dr. Christopher Robles specializes in Family Medicine and Primary Care and sees patients at the Somers and White Plains practices. To make an appointment, call 914-849-7075.