Primary Care

Summer safety: Health dangers when the heat sizzles

Summer safety: Health dangers when the heat sizzles

By Dr. Lena Nesheiwat, Nuvance Health Medical Practices, Hyde Park Primary Care

5/26/2021

As the temperatures heat up, it’s best to be aware of the signs of a heat-related illness, including heat stroke and heat exhaustion. And thanks to the pandemic, there are a few new risk factors, such as the use of face masks, more outdoor socialization and changes in people’s fitness routines. 

Signs and symptoms

To stay safe on the blistering days of summer, lookout for muscle cramps or spasms in the stomach, arms or legs, fatigue, headache, nausea or vomiting and dizziness or fainting. These are symptoms of heat exhaustion and are warning signs you are putting yourself in harm’s way.

If you experience symptoms, cool down your body immediately. Head to shade or air conditioning. Remove excess clothing. Sip cool fluids and sponge your body with a wet cloth. If you don’t feel better shortly after taking these actions, seek medical attention.

 

Critical steps to avoid danger

Heat exhaustion can quickly become a life-threatening condition called heat stroke. Signs of this include: a body temperature of 104 degrees or higher, racing pulse, dry skin (no sweating), dizziness, throbbing headache, nausea, confusion and unconsciousness. Call 9-1-1 if you or your loved one exhibits signs of heat stroke.

 

At-risk people

July and August are the months with the most heat-related illnesses, and activities in these months can pose the greatest risks for older adults age 65 and up, women who are pregnant, infants and toddlers.

 

People who are overweight or have existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, should also be extra cautious. Know that some medications for depression, insomnia and poor circulation can make you more sensitive to heat. Some reduce your body’s ability to sweat and regulate temperature. Diuretics decrease thirst and increase urination, causing dehydration. All of these effects can lead to heat-related illnesses.

Dress appropriately

When the mercury rises, wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and fabrics, drink plenty of water even before you become thirsty and stay in air conditioning if possible. 

On extremely hot days, certain types of masks can become heat traps, like those made from polyester. Pick one with a breathable fabric, like cotton. If it becomes wet from your sweat, be sure to swap it out for a clean, dry one.

 

If your home is not air conditioned, libraries, shopping malls and cooling centers may offer another option.

Even healthy, active adults can put themselves at risk, by exercising in the heat of the day or drinking alcohol, both of which dehydrate the body.

Outdoor exercise tips

Exercise before 10 a.m. or after 5 p.m., the cooler hours of the day. Start slow and build up the pace gradually.

With exercising comes heavy sweating, which removes key salt and minerals from your body. A sports drink can replace them, as long as you are not on a low-salt diet or have a chronic condition.

Dr. Nesheiwat is a board-certified family medicine physician in Hyde Park, NY. Her areas of expertise include preventative care, women's health, acute and chronic medical conditions. Dr. Nesheiwat prides herself in taking the time during each patient visit to ensure effective healthcare and communication. Nuvance Health offers primary care in locations close to home and via telemedicine. You can search for a primary care provider near you here or learn more about primary care services here.

Dr. Lena Nesheiwat