“Heat-related illnesses and deaths are almost always preventable,” says Mark Levine, MD, Washington University emergency room physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “It’s important that everyone is aware of how to protect themselves during hot weather.”
That includes the elderly, very young and those with chronic medical conditions who are at increased risk for heat-related illnesses. But Dr. Levine emphasizes that people of any age can be affected by prolonged exposure to high temperatures and humidity. He recommends everyone take appropriate safety precautions when the weather is warm, such as:
- Stay in an air-conditioned environment when possible.
- Limit strenuous activity and sun exposure.
- Keep hydrated with cool, non-alcoholic fluids.
- Take shelter in the coolest part of a building (often the basement) or visit a local cooling center when air conditioning isn’t available.
But Dr. Levine says sometimes people think they can beat the heat and then end up experiencing heat exhaustion, or the first stage of the body’s inability to cope with heat. Initial signs may include heavy sweating, heat rash (raised red bumps), cramping, nausea and dizziness.
“Try to cool down at the first signs of heat exhaustion,” says Dr. Levine. “Get to an air-conditioned environment, drink cool water and rest. Treating these first signs of heat exhaustion often prevents the development of more dangerous symptoms such as vomiting or losing consciousness.”
If those or other symptoms don’t resolve within one hour, Dr. Levine recommends seeking professional medical assistance or calling 911. That’s because these are signs of heat stroke, a more serious condition that can be life-threatening.
“Heat stroke occurs when the body’s cooling mechanisms have failed, and there is immediate danger of brain damage, organ failure or even death,” says Dr. Levine. “At this stage of heat sickness, medical attention is absolutely necessary.”
Barnes-Jewish Hospital is a 1,315 bed teaching hospital affiliated with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo. The hospital has a 1,763 member medical staff, with many recognized as “Best Doctors in America.” Barnes-Jewish is a member of BJC HealthCare, which provides a full range of health care services through its 13 hospitals and more than 100 health care sites in Missouri and Illinois. Barnes-Jewish Hospital is also consistently ranked as one of America’s “Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.