Heading off heat illness during heat wave

Yuck, it’s hot out.

And the heat isn’t just uncomfortable. It can be dangerous.

“The danger is most people don’t recognize that they’re in trouble until it’s a little too late,” said Dr. Greg Marchand, an emergency room doctor for MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says heat-related illnesses are preventable, and it begins with some common sense.

“Don’t exercise in the middle of the day,” said Marchand. “Nobody really wants to modify their activities, and on a beautiful day you want to get outside and enjoy yourself.”

The symptoms of heat illness get worse the longer a person is out in the heat, he said.

“Initially, you start to feel a bit weak and tired — maybe a little dizzy, a little lightheaded,” said Marchand.

Eventually, the heart works too fast, and “you become short of breath, and go from mild heat illness to heat exhaustion, and even heat stroke.”

According to the CDC:  “When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause permanent disability or death if the person does not receive emergency treatment.”

In addition to that very high body temperature, symptoms of heat stroke include: confusion or slurred speech; loss of consciousness; hot, dry skin; profuse sweating; or seizures. In such cases, dial 911 for emergency medical care.

Thinking ahead, Marchand said, can prevent serious heat illness. For instance: Stay hydrated before, during and after any time in the heat and humidity.

“If you start to feel lightheaded, stop. Drink some fluids, and get out of the heat and get yourself into a cool environment,” Marchand said.

Asked if water or a sports drink was preferable, Marchand said no: “Whichever one is available — drink the water, drink the sports drink.”

While the first heat wave of the summer might seem to be more risky, Marchand disagrees. “The same concerns exist in the middle of August, and they did at the beginning of July.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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