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[DOCTOR’S ORDERS] Beat the Heat!

Originally posted in July 2013, this article contains timeless information on keeping cool during extremely hot weather.

Photo by henri meilhac on Unsplash

As most of you are aware, it is HOT! The National Weather Service is forecasting dangerously hot weather for many parts of the country. High temperatures and humidity are expected to create heat indices approaching or sometimes exceeding 100 degrees. High heat puts many of us at risk for suffering from illness. We all are susceptible to the dangers that extreme heat.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more people die each year from heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods combined.

Sweating is our normal process to help cool our bodies; at times, however, this may not be enough to meet the cooling demands of our bodies and our temperature can reach high levels. This can cause our bodies to “shut down,” affecting many important organs including the brain.  Heat illness ranges from heat rash to cramps to exhaustion–the most common type of heat illness–to stroke, which can cause permanent damage or death. Dehydration, heart disease, sunburn, alcohol use, fever and taking certain medications are situations that put you at greater risk for heat illness.

Infants and children ages 4 and younger are at an increased risk for heat illness. And there is special concern for those 65 and older who are isolated, live alone and may not have family or friends who can provide frequent checkups or visits. Seniors have the highest rates of illness and death from extreme heat exposure.

So what can you do to keep safe from the heat? Here are the Doctor’s Orders:

1.   Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty especially if you exercise.  Although many nonalcoholic sugary beverages will help you hydrate a little, they should be avoided. Water is the best.  Infants should not be given water; they should be kept hydrated with breastmilk or formula.  Also, if you have kidney or adrenal problems, speak with a health professional before drinking too much water. How much water to drink? Drink more than you usually d0. Research shows that at least, men should have at least 13 cups and women 9 cups of water every day. Another way to tell your level of hydration is to do the “pee” test and look at your urine.  If it is dark yellow and you are urinating infrequently,  you are most likely not getting enough water.  Well-hydrated urine is light yellow in color, and you will urinate several times a day.

2.   Limit your alcohol intake.  If you do choose to drink alcoholic beverages, drink plenty of water as well. Alcohol depletes your body of water.

3.   Stay cool and stay in air-conditioned spaces, especially during the midday. A fan is not always the best source of cooling. For seniors, many city health departments have lists of open cooling centers that can provide shelter from the heat.  Keep out of the direct sunlight, and take cool baths and showers.

4.   Be your brother’s and sister’s keeper. If you know of someone in your building, block or neighborhood who may have an increased risk of getting sick during heat waves such as seniors, people with medical conditions and children younger than 4, knock on their door or give them call to check in with them.

Stay cool, and stay safe.

Dr. Aletha Maybank is a board certified-physician in both pediatrics and preventive medicine/public health. You can follow her on Twitter at @DrAlethaMaybank and on Facebook.com/DrAlethaMaybank.

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