The heat wave sweeping parts of the country poses serious health risks, local health experts said, and they are warning Long Islanders to take a few extra steps to ward off dehydration and heatstroke.
Staying hydrated is key, said Dr. Chid Iloabachie, associate chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream hospital.
“For the overwhelming majority of us, our bodies don't like surprises,” Iloabachie said. “Your body will start giving you signs that you are dehydrated or that you are overheating. Maybe you'll start feeling thirsty, you might feel dry mouth, you might start getting a headache, you might start getting lightheaded.”
He said people should drink water and stay away from caffeine and alcohol.
WHAT TO KNOW
Tips for staying cool and healthy during a heat wave:
- Drink more fluids and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
- Wear sunscreen. Getting a sunburn impacts your body’s ability to cool down and increases your risk of skin cancer.
- Stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible. Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“People think that because [caffeine and alcohol] are fluids, that they are somehow replenishing fluids that you're losing,” Iloabachie said. “They have the opposite effect. Both of them cause you to lose water in ways that you don't even realize.”
Weather forecasts show temperatures in the low 90s for the rest of this week, according to the National Weather Service, but it will feel even steamier with a heat index close to 100 in the corridor from Philadelphia to Boston.
Heat stroke and heat exhaustion can happen when a person’s body is not able to cool itself, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Normally, a person’s body can cool down by sweating. That may not be possible in extreme heat when their body temperature rises faster than the body can cool itself down, the agency said. The result can be damage to a person’s brain and vital organs.
The CDC urged people to forgo drinks with a lot of sugar or alcohol and pointed out that sports drinks can help replace salt and minerals lost through sweat.
Iloabachie said people should put off strenuous outdoor activities, such as mowing the lawn, to either early in the morning or in the evening.
“Try not to do things too physical under the brightest and hottest afternoon sun,” he said. “That's going to land you in bad shape.”
Dr. Adalbert Pilip, a cardiologist at New York Comprehensive Medical Care, which has locations in Smithtown and Bohemia, said dehydration is a common problem he sees, even when there aren’t heat waves.
“Almost a third, if not half of our practice is seeing patients for symptoms of dehydration — dizziness, muscle cramps, fatigue,” Pilip said. “People think they are just signs of aging or other things, but these are significant dehydration symptoms people have to be aware of.”
Pilip also pointed out that people seeking relief at the pool or the beach on a hot, sunny day need to wear sunscreen.
“Skin cancers take years to develop,” he said. “The exposure from years ago catches up to you years later.”
Experts said some of the most vulnerable populations during a heat wave are infants, young children and older adults.
“It’s really important to pay attention to babies because they are not going to really be able to express what they’re feeling,” said Dr. Eve Meltzer Krief, of Huntington Village Pediatrics. “You have to monitor for symptoms like lethargy, fever, decreased urination and irritability.”
Meltzer Krief said parents should never give children under 6 months of age extra water because it can throw off their electrolytes. Instead, provide them with extra breast milk or formula, whichever they are taking.
She also suggested parents opt for indoor activities with air conditioning, or an outdoor activity with water such as a sprinkler park.
“Even with older children, keep offering them drinks because they may not realize they’re thirsty,” Meltzer Krief said. “And never leave a child in a car.”
Iloabachie encouraged people to check on their elderly and homebound neighbors on hot days.
“If they seem confused, agitated and their speech is slurred, those are signs they might already be in the stage of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, and the service you can do for them is to call 911,” he said.