Northern Westchester Hospital Chief of Emergency Medicine Talks Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Posted on: July 3, 2014

Tips to Beat the Heat… Avoid hazards such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke
By Dr. Jim Dwyer

boy drinking waterWhen the temperatures climb, so does the risk of heat exhaustion. The risk is greater for the very young, the elderly and for those who have medical issues that might deplete their fluids and leave them susceptible to dehydration. People who take diuretics for high blood pressure, for example, might have a low tolerance for the heat.

The easiest way to protect people at increased risk of heat illness is to keep them indoors in the air conditioning. If they must go outside, they should do it only for short periods of time, drink plenty of water while outdoors, and cover up with light, loose clothing or stay in the shade as much as possible.

As expected, when kids are out of school, they spend much more time outdoors. Get them to take quick water breaks every half hour or so, and encourage them to cool off a bit or perhaps play in a shaded area. If they want flavored drinks, suggest something with electrolytes in it such as Gatorade, but avoid anything with caffeine, which can also be a diuretic and lead to dehydration. Healthy snacks that include fruits and vegetables help kids keep their energy up, but did you know fruits and vegetables can also help keep them hydrated? Making sure they wear sunscreen and a hat will also help protect them from heat-related illnesses.

It’s also important to exercise caution when high school sports practices start up in August. Coaches may ask players to do two or three practices a day. Sports that require athletes to wear a great deal of equipment, such as football, can be particularly dangerous. Although coaches are much better educated about the risk of heat exposure, you should make sure your kids understand the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion or stroke.

Signs that someone might be starting to suffer from heat exhaustion include:
•Excessive sweating
•Skin may appear clammy

Any of these symptoms indicate that you should get inside quickly and begin re-hydrating with water. Sitting in front of a fan and misting yourself will accelerate the cooling process.

Signs of heat stroke can be:
•Sweating stops
•Face, skin turns beet red
•Extreme fatigue

These are all indications that a person needs immediate emergency medical attention.

Never, never leave your kids in a car unattended.

One thing I always mention when discussing heat risk: Never, never leave your kids in a car unattended. It only takes minutes before the child will become unresponsive. Anything could distract a parent long enough to do permanent or even fatal damage.

Editor’s Note: Jim Dwyer, MD is Director and Chief of Emergency Medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital.