Tips to Protect Against Soaring Summer Temperatures

From the west coast to the east coast, Americans are experiencing record-breaking temperatures. Some states are reporting triple-digit numbers and the heat has been the cause of several reported deaths.

"Children and the elderly are considered the most vulnerable population. It is harder for their bodies to respond to these high temperatures," said Richard N. Bradley, M.D., associate professor of emergency medicine and chief of EMS and disaster medicine at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

"The key is not to push it too hard. Stay inside a building with air conditioning when you can. If your home does not have a/c, go to a shopping center or library. Some cities are even offering 'cooling stations' to help those at-risk, especially the homeless," Bradley said.

Those with pre-existing conditions like heart disease, lung disease, or mental illness should also try and stay indoors. The hottest part of the day tends to be between 12-to-4 p.m., so it is best to get your outdoor activities done early in the morning or late in the evening.

Bradley offers the following tips if you have to be outside:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Drink water throughout the day, even if you aren't thirsty
  • Stay away from alcoholic beverages
  • If you are unable to drink sufficient fluids because you have nausea or are vomiting, contact your physician
  • If someone you are with becomes confused or disoriented, call 911 for help immediately

Bradley also suggests you be alert to the symptoms of heat-related illnesses such as cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Heat cramps are painful, brief muscle cramps that occur during exercise or work in a hot environment. The cramps are usually felt in the calves, thighs, abdomen, or shoulders.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is not able to maintain normal functions because of the excessive loss of body fluids and salts. In effect, the body is trying to protect itself from a greater rise in body temperature. The symptoms include heavy sweating, intense thirst, dizziness, nausea, and a weak or rapid pulse.

Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency. It is the result of the body's inability to regulate its core temperature. As the body's water and salt supplies dwindle, its temperature rises to extreme levels. The symptoms include a very high body temperature above 104 degrees (although heat stroke can occur at lower body temperatures), disorientation, confusion, or coma. The skin may be hot and dry or sweaty.

"If you suspect someone may be experiencing any of those symptoms, it's very important to get medical help right away," Bradley said. "It could mean the difference in someone surviving the heat or not."

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