Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can strike when your body cannot cool down properly

By: Tim Studebaker

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PROVIDENCE, RI (WLNE) – Wednesday is the first day of a long period of heat and humidity in southern New England. While it is uncomfortable and annoying for some people, for others the heat can be downright dangerous.

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

Dr James McDonald is Medical Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. Dr McDonald says, “If you work outdoors, you are in construction, you are a roofer, you work outside in the heat, sometimes it surprises you. “

In order to cool us off when we sweat in the heat, our sweat must be able to evaporate from our skin. This process does not work well in humid conditions, which can lead to dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Dr McDonald says, “So what you get with heat exhaustion is people who sweat a lot, they can look a little pale, they can have muscle cramps. You are going to be a little tired and weak, you might even feel a little dizzy and have a headache.

Dr McDonald says that at the first sign of heat exhaustion, it’s important to take steps to cool off: look for air conditioning or take a cool shower and keep drinking the water. If you don’t, you could progress to heat stroke.

Dr McDonald says, “When you see people with heat stroke, you have a really high body temperature, they actually have a fever, maybe 103 or a fever like that. Their skin is red, hot, and they don’t sweat. Their hearts are beating very fast. They might have a throbbing headache. They feel dizzy. They have an upset stomach. They can even be confused. They might even pass out.

According to Dr. McDonald, heat stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Some people are at a higher risk for heat-related illnesses, such as babies, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions.

Dr McDonald says: “There is a lot to be said for watching our neighbors during times like this. I think we sometimes think of it as an old-fashioned thing, but it’s really important.

Take home message: Heat-related illnesses are preventable. Some ways to stay safe are trying to stay cool in air conditioning if you have access to it, staying hydrated, and limiting outdoor activities, especially during the hottest part of the day. You should also make sure you know the signs of heat-related illnesses and see a doctor if necessary.

© WLNE-TV / ABC6 2021