Common sense precautions to protect yourself this summer
Most people know there are risks to overexerting yourself in the heat, though few realize the potential dangers of extreme overheating. But while heat stroke – the most serious on a spectrum of heat-related illnesses – is potentially fatal, it is also preventable.
“There’s a range of heat-related diseases, from heat rash to heat exhaustion, marked by symptoms like cramping, lightheadedness and nausea,” Dr. Randy Tartacoff, co-director of the emergency department at Teaneck’s Holy Name Medical Center, explains. “But with those illnesses you’re still sweating, which is our body’s mechanism of cooling down. With heat stroke, we’ve lost our ability to cool down. We stop sweating, so we’re unable to get rid of our heat, and the body will shut down.”
Tartacoff feels one key to prevention is recognizing symptoms of milder heat-related illnesses which, if left untreated, may develop into heatstroke.
“If you’re outside and you’re hot, and you’re lightheaded or start cramping, those are red flags and you need to start cooling down,” he says, adding that getting out of the sun and into a cool environment is step one.
“You have to get out of the heat into somewhere air-conditioned,” he says, noting that a vehicle with air-conditioning on full blast is a quick option.
Dr. George Becker, emergency department director at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, advises taking advantage of cool environments throughout summer days, staying indoors during the hottest parts of the day, and taking breaks from prolonged heat. “If you can get into a mall or an air-conditioned place for even a few hours a day, those breaks are important to reducing your chances of heatstroke,” he says.