What to do when it is just too darn hot

July 16, 2013

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

Cole Porter nailed it in 1948 when he wrote the song "It's Too Dan Hot" for his Broadway musical "Kiss Me Kate." It describes the practical and romantic impacts of high temperatures on all of us, and I am not talking about climate change or global warming.

Boy is it hot. I mean record setting Death Valley hot. It is bake-cookies-in-your-car hot, and yet many people have no idea that the outside heat presents a serious health risk from dehydration that may lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Porter's advice is worth taking: "According to the Kinsey report / ev'ry average man you know / much prefers to play his favorite sport / when the temperature is low / but when the thermometer goes way up / and the weather is sizzling hot / Mister Adam for his madam is not."

Our bodies are machines. They have a cooling system, sweating, and we should replace our fluids daily "“ about eight glasses of water or liquid, more if you are outside in hot and humid conditions. "High temperatures can cause various organs within the body not to function optimally," says Dr. Marie Bernard, deputy director of National Institutes of Health (NIH's) National Institute on Aging. Excess body heat can stress the heart and harm the brain. It might even lead to a coma.

Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are the most common health issues. Heat cramps are the painful tightening of muscles in your stomach, arms or legs. Heat exhaustion is a warning that your body can no longer keep itself cool. You might feel dizzy, thirsty, weak, uncoordinated, and nauseated. Your skin might feel cold and clammy, and you may have a rapid pulse. If this happens, drink plenty of fluids and rest in a cool place.

If you are not careful, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke. Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of hyperthermia that occurs when your body temperature reaches 104 ° Fahrenheit or more. Heat stroke can lead to confusion, fainting, staggering, strange behavior or dry, flushed skin. Heat stroke is a medical emergency.

If you or your family experience any of these symptoms, take action immediately. Get in the shade "“ or better, an air-conditioned room. Drink cool fluids and if the symptoms persist, call 9-1-1. Much to the chagrin of national food manufacturers, you do not need the expensive sports drinks unless you are a trained athlete. For most people, plain, cool water will do the job very nicely. Stay away from the energy drinks and avoid alcohol.

When the temperature and humidity are in triple digits and you see people jogging and exercising vigorously outside, you have to ask, "Where are these folks' brains?"

As the NIH notes, "Heat-related illness is preventable. Still, hundreds of deaths from extreme heat events occur in the United States each year. It's important to be aware of who's at greatest risk so you can take steps to help beat the heat."

Jeff Nedelman has more than 30 years of experience in various industries, including a stint as a Chief of Staff to a U.S. Senator and chief lobbyist for the nation's largest food trade association. In all those years, Jeff has learned that the shortest distance between two political points is not a straight line.

Originally published Jul 16, 2013 10:00:35 AM.