No matter how long you’ve lived in the New Orleans area, the first wave of summer heat can take your breath away. While we Southerners have no choice but to get used to the heat and humidity, some run a high risk of severe health consequences if they get overheated. While we all need to take the proper precautions during the summer, those who are very young, seniors, and those with chronic health conditions are especially prone to serious health impacts if they get overheated.
High temperatures can quickly lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke
After a year of lockdowns due to COVID-19, many people are spending more time outdoors enjoying activities and events they were not able to do last summer. And while it’s great getting outdoors, hot and humid days can quickly result in a health crisis if you are not careful. That’s because our body produces sweat, which works as a cooling agent, but when we get overheated, we don’t produce enough sweat; thus, our body is unable to cool itself. The result can be heat exhaustion or heat stroke. While similar, these two illnesses do have different symptoms:
Heat exhaustion signs:
- Heavy sweating resulting in weakness and dizziness
- Weak but faster pulse or heart rate
- Pale, cold, clammy skin
Heat exhaustion can lead to a heat stroke; symptoms include:
- Body temperature rises to 104 or higher
- Confusion or loss of consciousness
- Rapid pulse or heart rate
- Skin becomes hot and dry
Both of these heat illnesses can be dangerous to the general population, especially for young children, seniors, and chronic health conditions. Younger children and older adults have poor temperature regulation, to begin with, so heat makes that regulation even harder on the body. Those with chronic illnesses are typically taking medications that predispose them to heat-related illnesses. Regardless of your situation, if you or someone you are with begins to feel ill, get inside and cool down. If heat stroke symptoms occur, call 911 or get to the Emergency Room (ER) as immediate medical care is needed. West Jefferson Medical Center has both a
senior ER and a children’s ER where specialists can care of the youngest to the oldest as medical care may vary depending on age.
There are many tips to beating the heat
There’s no getting around the heat in the summer, but there are precautions you can take to stay as safe as possible while outdoors. Keeping cool is the goal, and there are many things you can do to accomplish that:
- Dress for the occasion by wearing loose, breathable, light-colored clothing. If you have young children, let them pick out fun clothing along with their favorite wide-brimmed baseball hat and sunglasses to protect their faces from the sun. Everyone needs to apply sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater at least 30 minutes before going outside and reapply often.
- Plan around the hottest part of the day by scheduling outdoor activities early morning or late in the afternoon. If you must be outdoors during the hottest part of the day, stay in the shade as much as possible and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Adults should avoid alcohol and caffeine as alcohol can cause dehydration, and caffeine can add more stress to your heart, something that can be dangerous when in the heat.
- If possible, splash around in a pool. This outdoor activity can be fun for the whole family – just make sure those in the pool are good swimmers. Young children and those who are not completely comfortable in a pool should have a life vest to keep safe.
- When outdoors, eat light, cool foods such as chilled fruit, crisp salads, and light sandwiches. Lighter foods are easier on the stomach and will not make you feel uncomfortable or tired.
Summer can be a great time of year as families tend to travel and do more activities together. Just make sure you take precautions to keep everyone in the family safe, and that means staying cool.
About Dr. Falguni Patel:
After completing her Bachelor's of Science at Louisiana State University (LSU), Dr. Patel attended medical school at Ross University School of Medicine, followed by the completion of her Internal Medicine training at LSU Lafayette. She is board-certified in Internal Medicine and has been practicing hospital medicine for the past 3 years at West Jefferson Medical Center.