Providence ER doctor offers tips to prevent heat-related illnesses

With temperatures already in the 90s, and the heat index soaring above 100 degrees, the summer of 2018 has shaped up to be a hot one, and that can spell danger for anyone who is susceptible to heat-related illnesses.

“When temperatures reach the 90s and above for several days consecutively, we see more heat-related illnesses in young children, older adults and those with chronic illnesses, such as hypertension and obesity,” said Michael Watts, D.O., Emergency Department medical director, Providence Medical Center. “This is a serious health problem, especially for our elderly and young children. More people have died from heat-related illnesses in the last 25 years than from all other weather-related causes combined, including tornadoes, lightning and hurricanes.”

The good news is that most heat-related illnesses can be prevented.

“Probably the single most important thing you can do is to drink plenty of fluids,” Dr. Watts advised. “Water is the best thing to drink. Stay away from sugary beverages, caffeine and alcohol. They can actually cause the body to dehydrate.”

Heat-related illnesses can range from minor to life-threatening.

“Symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, rapid pulse, headache, hot, dry skin, a pale or flushed complexion, a body temperature over 100 degrees and confusion,” Dr. Watts said. Life-threatening symptoms include convulsions, unconsciousness, delirium or coma.

Dr. Watts added that heat-related fever isn’t the same as a fever associated with a cold or the flu.

“When the fever is related to the heat, the body doesn’t respond to the medicines we typically take. Acetaminophen and other fever-reducing medicines won’t help lower the body temperature.”

Because it can be difficult to tell whether a person is suffering from a heat-related illness, Dr. Watts advised anyone who experiences these symptoms to seek medical attention immediately.

“Heat-related illnesses can be emergencies and in some cases, even life-threatening,” Dr. Watts said. “Use common sense, but remember it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you feel like your body is overheating, get help.”

To stay cool, even in extreme heat, Providence Medical Center offers the following tips:

• Drink plenty of fluids. Water is the best liquid. If you are outside when the temperate is in the 90s or above, drink a gallon of water a day to make up for fluid lost through perspiration evaporation. Avoid caffeinated beverages. They dehydrate the body.
• Wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 20 or above. Apply it at least 30 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply it as necessary. Sunburned skin can raise your body temperature, making you more susceptible to heat-related illness.
• Provide infants and young children with extra fluids and keep them out of the sun.
• Check on older neighbors and relatives without air conditioning to be certain they stay cool.
• Never leave children in a car, especially during the summer. A young child’s core body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult’s. Research shows on a 95-degree day, the temperature in a small vehicle can exceed 122 degrees within 20 minutes and 150 degrees within 40 minutes.
• Wear loose, light-colored clothing.
• Take cool showers or baths.
• Eat light meals, such as salads and fresh fruits and increase the amount of potassium in the diet. Perspiration strips the body of salt and potassium. Apricots, bananas, cantaloupes, oranges, beans, broccoli, potatoes and tomatoes are rich in potassium.
• Reduce outside activities, or try to schedule outdoor activities either before noon or in the evening. If you work outdoors, rest frequently in the shade.

To learn more about the Providence Emergency Department care, visit

– From Pat McBratney, manager, marketing and communications, Providence Medical Center

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