So, it’s Hot. Do Heat Warnings about Health Apply to Me?

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Karen Teber


WASHINGTON (July 19, 2019) — It’s hot!  For many young, active folks, the warnings about taking care in the heat might sound overblown. But for very young children, people with chronic illnesses and older folks, excessive heat can lead to problems quickly.

With the excessive heat watches and warning this weekend in the Washington area, Georgetown University family medicine physician Alison Huffstetler, MD, emphasizes the importance of self-awareness.

“Overheating happens when your normal body mechanism for keeping a regular temperature is outweighed by very high heat, and importantly, high humidity,” Huffstetler explains. “This is because it is more challenging for heat to be lost by evaporation off of the skin.”

Huffstetler says people with a greater risk of overheating include the elderly, people on diuretic medicines (for high blood pressure, for example), those who become dehydrated, and folks drinking alcohol. 

“These people need to take special steps to stay cool,” she says. “But all of us should stay indoors where it is air conditioned to avoid heat stress.  If you don’t have air conditioning at home, visit indoor locations like shopping malls or a friend’s home.”

Huffstetler says if you’re not outside often, you may have a harder time adapting to the heat. “Take plenty of water with you to drink, and limit alcohol intake. If planning a trip to the beach, take an umbrella or something else that will help you create shade.”

If you do overheat, when should you seek medical care?  “Go to an emergency room or urgent care center immediately if after being in the heat, you are throwing up, have muscle cramps for over an hour, or feel confused.”

Dr. Huffstetler is a health and media fellow at Georgetown University School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter at @AHuffstetler.