Soaring Temps Can Pose Serious Health Risks

Experts offer advice on coping with the heat wave gripping much of the U.S.

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TUESDAY, July 12 (HealthDay News) -- Scorching heat and oppressive humidity continued to grip much of the United States Tuesday, with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees -- and in some cases 100 degrees -- from the Southwest to the Northeast.

The heat wave is prompting doctors to warn that high temperatures can cause serious -- and even potentially fatal -- health problems.

"The body has ways of keeping itself cool, by letting heat escape through the skin, and by perspiring," said Dr. Ken Sable, vice chair of emergency medicine at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, where the mercury was expected to top out at 95 degrees on Tuesday.

"If the body does not cool properly or does not cool enough, the victim may suffer a heat-related illness. Anyone can be susceptible although the very young and very old are at greater risk. Heat-related illnesses can become serious or even deadly if unattended," he added.

Sable said the safest place to be during a heat wave is indoors -- if air conditioning is available. Remain in the air-conditioning as long as possible. And limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours when temperatures are relatively cooler.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says electric fans may provide some comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans won't ward off heat-related illness. Instead, take a cool shower or bath, or move to an air-conditioned place.

The CDC also offers this advice:

  • Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. But if you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.
  • While anyone can be stricken with heat-related illness, certain groups of people are especially vulnerable, including infants and young children, people 65 and older, those with a mental illness, and those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure.

Sable said it's also best to avoid caffeine and alcohol. Drinks that contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar can cause dehydration and irritability.

The National Weather Service said the excessive heat would continue over much of the eastern two-thirds of the country on Tuesday, with excessive heat warnings and heat advisories in place from parts of Texas and Oklahoma, eastward across the Plains states and Mississippi Valley, into the Gulf Coast states, southeastern United States, and the Mid-Atlantic region. Air quality alerts are in effect across the eastern United States, including parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia.

The cause of the heat wave is a high-pressure system that has remained stuck over much of the middle of the country, blocking the arrival of cooler air from Canada. In Wichita, the temperature has hit at least 100 degrees for 20 straight days.

If you're looking for some (very) long-range relief from the heat, don't count on it. A recent study from Stanford University predicts that scorching temperatures would become the new norm, with unusually hot summers by the middle of the century. The culprit cited by the researchers: global warming.

More information

For more on protecting yourself from the heat, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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