It's Not So Much the Heat, It's the Lack of Power
Expert advice on how to stay cool if you've lost your electricity
MONDAY, July 2, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- It's bad enough that a record-breaking heat wave is throttling the eastern half of the United States, but millions of people have no electrical power to help them cope with the searing temperatures.
An estimated 2 million customers from North Carolina to New Jersey and as far west as Illinois had no power Monday morning, USA Today reported, and utilities companies said the power outage could last several more days.
Without power, people are struggling to cope with the dangerously high temperatures, unable to follow standard advice that includes retreating to the air conditioning or using fans to keep cool.
Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, advises cooling off in a pool or other body of water. He also advises drinking plenty of water throughout the day to prevent dehydration.
"Don't just drink when you are thirsty -- keep ahead of your thirst and drink consistently throughout the day," he said.
Sports drinks that contain electrolytes such as sodium and potassium with small amounts of glucose may help combat dehydration, Glatter noted, but caffeinated beverages and products with high amounts of sugar can worsen dehydration.
Because children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to dehydration, they should be checked on often and encouraged to drink lots of fluids, he added.
Signs that you are overheated or at risk for a heat-related problem include dizziness, nausea and headache. If children or the elderly have any of these signs, they should go to an emergency room for medical attention.
"If people have an elevated temperature and are confused, it is important not to administer things like Advil, Tylenol or aspirin, because these medicines can worsen heat stroke," Glatter said. "Don't give medicines that lower temperature for a heat-related emergency."
If you have power but no air conditioning, you can spray your body with water and sit in front of a fan to keep cool, he said.
Many seniors take medications that hamper the body's ability to cool itself through sweating, including diuretics and some blood pressure drugs. People who are overweight also may be prone to heat sickness because of their tendency to retain more body heat, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Wear loose, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to shield yourself from the sun's rays if you have to spend time outdoors, Glatter said.
The CDC recommends a "buddy system" when working in the heat, to monitor the health of your co-workers and have them do the same for you. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness, and you should call 911 immediately if you see this happening.
Even short periods of hot temperatures can cause serious health problems, so the CDC recommends listening to local media reports or contacting local health departments for safety updates. Overexerting yourself on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses.
According to the CDC, there are several types of heat illnesses that you need to watch out for, both in yourself and others:
- Heat stroke happens when the body can't regulate its own temperature. You lose your ability to sweat, and your body is unable to cool down. Your body temperature may rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in the space of 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given. Symptoms include red, hot, dry skin; a rapid and strong pulse; a throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; and confusion. Once these symptoms occur, the victim has to be cooled rapidly using whatever methods you have, which include putting the person in a cool tub of water or a cool shower, spraying the person with a hose or wrapping the victim in a cool sheet. Do not give the victim fluids to drink, and get medical help as soon as possible.
- Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and lack of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, those with high blood pressure and people working or exercising in a hot environment. Symptoms include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting and fainting. The skin may be cool and moist and the pulse rate fast and weak while breathing may be fast and shallow. Help cool off the victim, and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour.
- Heat cramps typically happen after you sweat a lot during strenuous activity. The cramps also may be a symptom of heat exhaustion. Cramps symptoms include muscle pains or spasms -- usually in the stomach, arms or legs. You should stop all activity immediately and sit down in a cool place if you experience cramps. Drink clear liquids or sports drinks, and do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours. Seek medical attention if the cramps do not stop within an hour.
For more on coping with heat waves, go to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.