Hot & humid stretch increases risk for heat illnesses

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can strike when your body can’t cool itself down properly

By: Tim Studebaker

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – Wednesday is the first day of an extended stretch of heat and humidity in southern New England.  While it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient for some people, for others the heat can be downright dangerous.

Heat and humidity can really do a number on your body.  In fact, according to the CDC, heat kills more people on average than any other weather threat.

Doctor James McDonald serves as Medical Director at the Rhode Island Department of Health.  Dr. McDonald says, “If you’re working outside, you’re in construction, you’re a roofer, you’re out there working in the heat, it does sneak up on you sometimes.”

In order to cool us off when we sweat in the heat, our sweat needs to be able to evaporate off our skin.  That process doesn’t work well when it’s humid, which can lead to dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Dr. McDonald says, “So, what you get with heat exhaustion is people who are sweating a lot, they might look kind of pale, they might have some muscle cramps.  You’re going to get a little tired and weak, even might feel a little dizzy, and have a headache.”

Dr. McDonald says at the first sign of heat exhaustion, it’s important to take steps to cool yourself down: seek out air conditioning or take a cool shower, and continue drinking water.  If you don’t, you could progress into heat stroke.

Dr. McDonald says, “When you see people with heat stroke, you’re having a very high body temperature, these people actually have like a fever, maybe 103 or some fever like that.  Their skin is red, hot, and they’re not sweating.  Their heart’s beating really fast.  They might have a throbbing headache.  They’re dizzy.  They have an upset stomach.  They might even be confused.  They might even pass out.”

According to Dr. McDonald, heat stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical care.  Some people are at higher risk for heat illnesses, like babies, the elderly, and people with underlying health conditions.

Dr. McDonald says, “There’s a lot to be said for checking on our neighbors during times like this.  I think we think about that sometimes as like an old fashioned thing, but it’s really important.”

The takeaway message: heat illnesses are preventable.  Some ways to stay safe include trying to keep cool in air conditioning if you have access to it, staying hydrated, and limiting outdoor activity, especially during the hottest part of the day.  You should also make sure you know the signs of heat illnesses and seek medical help if necessary.

© WLNE-TV / ABC6 2021

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