Keep cool and hydrate on
With summer in full swing – and the heat and humidity along with it – we need to pay extra attention to the health hazards it can bring.
“Common sense is the key,” said Craig S. Cornwall, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis.
Dr. Cornwall says he regularly sees people with heat exhaustion at the hospital’s emergency department during the summer.
“I saw a couple yesterday,” he said.
Loss of water and salt from sweating can lead to heat exhaustion. Symptoms, according to the National Safety Council and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, may include;
- Ashy, clammy skin
- Dizziness or fainting
- A fast, weak pulse
- Muscle cramps
If the symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour, or the person vomits, seek medical help.
Treatment is straightforward:
- Drink water
- Move to a cool area
- Take a cold shower or apply cold, wet towels.
Dr. Cornwall said he recently saw a 20-year-old woman who decided to stay on the beach at the base of a hill for several hours and didn’t bring any water with her.
“When she tried to get up the hill at the end of the day, she fainted,” he said.
Less commonly seen is heat stroke, which is a medical emergency and can be deadly.
“Heat stroke is the inability to regulate your core temperature, leading to neurologic distress,” Dr. Cornwall said.
Victims of heat stroke, according to the National Safety Council and the CDC, will have the following symptoms:
- A temperature of 103 degrees or higher
- A fast, strong pulse
- Rapid breathing
- Hot, dry skin
- They may have a headache and dizziness, or appear confused, even become unresponsive.
“That’s a 911 call,” Dr. Cornwall said.
Because of the danger of choking, you should not attempt to give victims of heat stroke water or other beverages to drink, he said. Treatment requires moving the person to a cool spot and immersing them in cold water. Breathing must be monitored in case CPR is required, according to the CDC.
“I’ve probably seen five cases in my 25-year career in the ER,” Dr. Cornwall said. At the New Balance Falmouth Road Race - held each August at the height of heat season - doctors can “see 10 cases in an hour,” he added. The race will be held on Aug. 18 this year and a Cape Cod Healthcare medical team will again staff the medical tents. CCHC is the official medical care provider of the race.
Athletes, landscapers and anyone working or playing outside in the summer can potentially fall ill with heat exhaustion or heat stroke. People who are accustomed to working or exercising in hot conditions usually will drink plenty of water and take breaks to avoid getting sick, said Dr. Cornwall. More often, the person who gets into trouble is the office worker who plays golf in the heat or homeowner who does yardwork while drinking alcohol, he said. But all ages and types of people can succumb to heat-related illness, he added.
Dr. Cornwall advised drinking water before going outside and continuing to drink water while in the heat. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated drinks.
“Don’t wait till you’re thirsty,” he said. “Once you’re thirsty, you’re already behind.”
Some people are more prone to heat exhaustion: infants and young children, seniors, obese people and those with chronic illnesses. Dr. Cornwall said children can overheat more quickly than adults. Seniors may be on diuretics or other medicines that make you more susceptible to dehydration and the effects of high heat, and they often don’t drink enough water, he added.
The CDC offers these hot weather tips:
- Get Cool - Fans won’t prevent heat-related illness when the temperature is in the 90s. Take a cool shower or bath. If you don’t have air conditioning, go to a store, mall, library, senior center or other building.
- Pace Yourself - Avoid physical activity during the hottest part of the day.
- Be Sun Smart - Sunburn limits your body’s ability to fight heat, so wear sunscreen and broad-brimmed hats outside.
- Protect Children - Don’t leave infants and children in cars; they could die. Car interiors can rapidly overheat, even with windows opened a crack.
- Eat Light - Try to use your stove or oven less often and avoid hot, heavy meals.
- Dress Appropriately - Wear loose, light-colored, lightweight clothing.
- Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate - Drink plenty of water and stay away from alcoholic and sugary drinks. A sports drink can help replace salt and minerals lost to sweating.
- Pets Get Hot Too - Leave fresh, cold water for your pets and don’t leave them in hot, sunny areas.