Heat emergency safety practices, signs of heat-related illness and when to get help

A potentially dangerous heat wave is descending upon the region; D.C. has declared a heat emergency through Sunday, and a Northern Virginia physician wants people to know the signs of heat stroke.

Dr. Jason Singh, an internal medicine doctor at Kaiser Permanente in Manassas, Virginia. (Courtesy Kaiser Permanente)

During a D.C. heat emergency, people are asked to stay cool, check on seniors and other vulnerable neighbors and call the shelter hotline for people in need of free transportation to a cooling center. (Find your nearest one here.)

Do you know the signs that getting overheated is making you sick?

”There’s heat cramps, which presents as muscle pains or spasms in the stomach, arms or legs,” said Dr. Jason Singh, an internal medicine doctor at Kaiser Permanente in Manassas, Virginia. “Then there’s heat exhaustion, which presents as heavy sweating, muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness and nausea.”

People with heat cramps or heat exhaustion are urged to get to a cooler location, remove excess layers of clothing and hydrate.

Heat stroke is an emergency.

“This is an oral temperature of greater than 103 and you have red, hot, dry skin with no sweat and a rapid strong pulse and feel dizzy or confusion. This is an emergency so it’s important to get to the closest emergency room or dial 911,” Singh said.

Warning signs of heat stroke, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include:

  • Body temperature of 103 degrees or higher
  • Dry, hot, red or damp skin
  • Feeling confused
  • Headache
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Losing consciousness

In cases of heat stroke, the CDC advises:

  • Call 911 right away
  • Move the person to a cooler place
  • Do not give the person anything to drink
  • Try lowering body temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath
CLICK TO EXPAND: Signs of heat-related illness, from the CDC. (Courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Singh has a few other notes of heat-related caution.

Don’t get sunburned: “Sunburn affects our body’s ability to cool down and can also make you dehydrated.”

And do not leave children or pets in cars: “Cars can quickly heat up to dangerous temperatures even when the windows cracked open.”

Also, cover windows with drapes or shades to help keep your environment cool indoors.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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