BY DR. DAVID SAMADI
Every single year it happens – across the country we get a heat wave during the summer with unbearable heat and humidity raising the risk of heat-related illnesses and death.
Heat waves come and go but in their wake they kill more people than hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and lightning combined, according to the National Weather Service. During the years of 1999 to 2010, extreme heat caused 7,415 heat-related deaths in the United States.
Those most at risk are the elderly, babies and children, and anyone with a chronic health problem. Individuals who already have health issues of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, poor circulation, prescription drug use, alcohol use, or the homeless living out in the elements, are more likely to experience heat cramps, heat syncope (fainting), heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.
Why Heat Waves Are Deadly
Heat waves are when temperatures are higher and/or more humid than average for a location at that time of year. These conditions always occur during the summer when temperatures can escalate for days or weeks at a time. High humidity only adds more misery as it creates a “dome” of high atmospheric pressure trapping hazy, damp air near the ground. In drier locations humidity may not be as bad but extremely dry, hot conditions can cause dust storms with low visibility. When the heat wave extends for a long period of time without rainfall, this creates a very dangerous situation.
When heat and humidity rise, sweat will not evaporate as quickly preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. When a person is not able to sweat normally, this results in the body not being able to compensate and keep itself cool. During times of extreme heat accompanied by high humidity, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly which can cause damage to the brain or other organs.
Signs Of Heat-Related Illness
Knowing the signs of heat-related illness is vital to getting a person the help they need as quickly as possible:
• A high pulse rate
• Shallow breathing
• Decreased sweating
• Hot, flushed, dry skin
How To Prevent Heat-Related Illness During Heat Waves
There may not be much we can do to prevent a heat wave or it’s duration, but there are many things we can control in protecting ourselves and others from the dangers of extreme heat:
• Staying indoors in air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death.
Homes that are not air-conditioned should at least have fans or the occupants should spend time in public facilities that are air-conditioned. Using a spray bottle with cool water is another way to prevent your body from overheating
• Stay inside, especially between 10 am and 5 pm which is the hottest time of the day.
If you have to be outdoors, stay in the shade.
• Dress in light-colored, light-weight, breathable clothing
When sleeping, use lightweight covers
• Drink plenty of water and eat lots of fruits and vegetables that provide extra water
• If you are physically active outdoors in the heat for more than an hour, consume a sports drink containing sodium and potassium to replenish what you lose in sweating
• Avoid alcohol, carbonated beverages and caffeinated beverages that can dehydrate you
• Close blinds and curtains to block the sun and heat during the day
• Supervise children playing outdoors making sure they are drinking cold water
• Never leave children, pets, or anyone in a car on a warm or hot day
• Check frequently on the elderly or vulnerable family members and friends on hot summer days
• Don’t forget to keep your pet(s) cool also and provide them with plenty of cool water
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team. Learn more at roboticoncology.com. Visit Dr. Samadi’s blog at SamadiMD.com. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.