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Coping with extreme heat

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Guest article from local cardiologist M P Ravindra Nathan, MD, weighs in on the effect of heat on our bodies

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he entire U.S., particularly Florida, is experiencing unusually hot weather with temperatures soaring into triple digits in many places this summer. Heat-related incidences are on the rise and, on average, prolonged exposure to heat steals about 1,300 lives a year. So, it’s time for us to take proper action to prevent this problem.

Excess heat can affect the body in two ways. It can cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Heat exhaustion occurs when a person is exposed to heat for some time without drinking enough fluids, as when you are sun tanning or working in hot weather.

It typically manifests as feeling thirsty with headaches, excessive sweating, feeling dizzy, confused and sick. Heat stroke is much more serious and occurs when the body temperature rises to 104F and can cause seizures, coma and death. It’s particularly common if you’re working outdoors in the hot sun for any reason including recreational activities like vigorous outdoor tennis or manual labor or any forms of strenuous work out, without drinking enough fluids. It can also happen when the body’s internal temperature regulation system is deranged which is not uncommon in older people, especially with chronic health conditions. Also, the elderly living in apartments without proper air conditioning are susceptible.

Don’t forget too much exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun can cause sun burns and increase your risk¡ of skin cancer and early skin ageing. Sunburns can be easily prevented by applying a high strength sunscreen.

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Children are especially sensitive to the effects of overheating. You have heard the horror stories of leaving a sleeping child in the baby seat in a parked car at the mall, the parent going to the store or work place and returning only to see an unconscious child who has suffered a heat stroke!
The temperature inside a closed car under the sun during peak summer months can go up by 118 F or above, which is more than enough to cause serious harm to a child.

The answer to all these problems is to stay well hydrated all the time; water is a good drink, but Gatorade and other sports drinks full of electrolytes, may be better. Coffee, tea and alcohol should be avoided.

Loosen your clothes and discard unnecessary clothing. Cooling packs around your neck during outdoor tennis on a hot day would be great. Take a cold shower if you can get to it or sponge yourself with a cool, wet towel. Needless to say, you have to get out of the hot environment and rest in a cool place, preferably an air-conditioned hall or room. If you continue to feel ill or exhausted, call 911 or get to a hospital for help rehydrating.

M P Ravindra Nathan, MD, FACC, FRCP, FAHA contributes regularly for the Hernando Sun. He is a retired cardiologist from Brooksville, Florida.

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