Severe dehydration is especially common. Drink fluids often – and avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages – to stay hydrated. Early warning signs of dehydration can include lightheadedness, mild nausea, muscle cramping, weakness and decreased urinary output, Murano explained. Infants, the elderly, and people working or exercising outdoors are especially vulnerable, particularly during peak heat hours. “If you feel any of these symptoms, drink fluids and seek shade or go indoors to cool off your body temperature,” Murano said.
Jacqueline Kaari, D.O., acting chair of Pediatrics at the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine, reminds parents and guardians to be especially vigilant about protecting children, especially very young children, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat. “Keep in mind that, because of their smaller body size, young children can develop heat-related illnesses much more quickly than an older child or an adult,” she said. “Make sure children are drinking lots of fluids, especially water, on hot days. If they are outside, playing, have them take breaks and come inside, where it’s cooler, throughout the day.”
Murano cautions parents and caregivers about leaving children in vehicles when it’s hot out. “This can be especially dangerous, even for a short period of time, because the vehicle’s temperature can quickly rise. Cracking the windows is just not good enough!”
Kaari also offered these reminders:
- Never leave children unattended near a pool or body of water for any amount of time.
- Check car seat buckles before securing children. Metal connectors inside a parked car can become hot enough to cause burns on a child’s sensitive skin.
- Lock car doors to keep children from playing inside parked vehicles where they can be overcome by the heat.
- Err on the side of caution when a child becomes ill from the heat. Fatigue, vomiting and headaches can all be signs of serious illness. Contact a physician or seek medical help if you suspect heat-related illness in a child.
- Encourage inside activities on hot days. A daytime trip to the bookstore, mall or bowling alley provides an air-conditioned escape from the heat.
UMDNJ physicians also urge family members and neighbors to regularly check up on the elderly.
“Forty percent of all heat-related deaths occur in people aged 65 or older,” noted Dr. Thomas Cavalieri, D.O., dean of the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine and founder of the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging. “Many older individuals have medical conditions that increase the dangers of hot weather. Their bodies are slower to adjust to temperature changes and they may have a diminished thirst reflex that keeps them from drinking adequate amounts of liquid. Some individuals may have safety and financial concerns that keep them behind locked doors and windows without fans or air conditioners.”
Murano cautioned that certain medications can increase seniors’ vulnerability to the heat’s effects. “Some meds can cause them to urinate a lot, so they may experience more fluid loss. Others taking medication to lower blood pressure may experience a dangerously low drop,” she explained. “Make sure their homes and apartments are adequately ventilated, ask how they are feeling and be observant.”
Anyone taking antidepressants, antihistamines, and antipsychotics also should exercise caution, as these medications may increase the risk of developing heat-related illness, said Bruce Ruck, Pharm.D., director of drug information and professional education for the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES).
Reporters interested in speaking with a UMDNJ health professional about heat-related illnesses should contact Zenaida Mendez at (973) 972-7273 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is the nation’s largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 6,000 students on five campuses attending the state’s three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and New Jersey’s only school of public health. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, which provides a continuum of healthcare services with multiple locations throughout the state.