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Hot and Bothered!

NewYork-Presbyterian Physicians Give Advice on How to Beat the Heat

NEW YORK (Jun 1, 2007)

As the temperature rises and the risk for heat stroke increases, people should be aware of how their bodies are handling the heat. Minimizing the stress of heat on your body by staying hydrated and spending more time in an air-conditioned environment will keep you cool and healthy throughout the summer months. "Heat-related injuries can range from a relatively minor problem like heat cramps to a more serious condition like heat stroke, which can be fatal," says Dr. Neal Flomenbaum, chief of emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

"Common injuries include muscle cramps due to loss of water and salt through perspiration; heat exhaustion in the form of headaches, nausea, and weakness; and heat stroke."

Heat stroke occurs when a person can no longer perspire and his or her temperature control mechanism stops working. At first, it will seem like heat exhaustion, but the patient may begin to experience confusion, seizures, and other more severe side effects.

Dr. Jay Lemery, director of the Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Division of the Department of Emergency Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, adds that "It's not just temperature that gives us heat stress. Humidity and direct exposure to the sun can also get people into trouble. The combination of these factors is what the weatherman refers to as the 'Heat index,' which measures the outside heat stress on the body."

Drs. Flomenbaum and Lemery suggest the following tips to stave off the sizzling summer temperatures:

  • Slow down. Strenuous activities should be reduced or eliminated, or rescheduled to a cool time of day. Persons at risk, especially the elderly, should stay in the coolest place available out of the sun or in an air-conditioned room. Young people should avoid vigorous athletic activities during peak daylight hours. Coaches and teachers should enforce low-stress activities for their athletes/students.
  • Dress for summer. Lightweight, light-colored, loose clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and helps your body maintain normal temperatures.
  • Drink plenty of water and other non-alcoholic fluids. Your body needs water to keep cool. Drink plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty. Caffeinated beverages should be minimized in favor of water and sports drinks. (A good test of hydration is to make sure your urine is always clear in color.)
  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages. While they may feel as if they are cooling you off, they can worsen the problem.
  • Do not take salt tablets unless specified by a physician. Persons on salt-restrictive diets should consult a physician before increasing their salt intake.
  • Spend more time in air-conditioned places. Air-conditioning markedly reduces danger from heat. If you cannot afford an air-conditioner, spend some time each day during hot weather in an air-conditioned environment.
  • Don't get too much sun. Sunburn makes the job of heat dissipation that much more difficult. Always remember to use sun block (SPF 15 or greater) when outdoors for prolonged periods of time in the summer months.
  • Keep an eye on your neighbor! People at the extremes of age are most susceptible to heat injury. Check the elderly neighbors to make sure that they are staying cool and hydrated.
  • Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency. If a person is experiencing severe signs of exhaustion, it is important to move the victim to a cooler environment and reduce body temperature with ice or cool water. Summon emergency medical assistance or get the person to a hospital immediately.

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Phone: (212) 821-0560.
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