How Not to Die During This Weekend's Heat Wave

There's nothing like a small-town Fourth of July parade... and it's something Albert never missed. In his mid-60s, he's helped organize and run his hometown parade for most of his life.

But this year, he didn't see the parade.

That's because after a few hours in the scorching July heat, Albert found himself in an ambulance en route to the closest ER.

Unfortunately, this story is more common than you might think. And although Albert made a full recovery, not everyone is so lucky.

Albert suffered from heat exhaustion. This condition happens when your body overheats to as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit. You might feel the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness or feeling faint and lightheaded
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heart racing
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Vision problems
  • Weakness 

Hospitals don't report how many folks wind up in the ER for heat exhaustion or the more advanced version, heatstroke. Heatstroke happens when your body is over 104 degrees – it can lead to organ damage and failure.

But we do know that the number of folks who die from heat-related problems each year is increasing. One measure in high school athletes shows that heat-related deaths have doubled since 1975, according to studies from the University of North Carolina.

And athletes are only one group at risk. Those with the greatest risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke: seniors.

That's because as we age, we gradually lose the ability to regulate our body temperature. The older we are, the higher our risk. Similarly, those with high blood pressure have higher risk of heat-related deaths because our temperature regulation depends greatly on circulation. Plus, that excess heat puts a strain on our hearts... which can spell danger for anyone with blood pressure problems.

What's more, certain medications also increase your risk for heat-related illness. These drugs interfere with your ability to regulate your body temperature. And they might surprise you. They include:

  • Antihistamines (like Benadryl)
  • Diuretics (like Diuril)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (like Elavil)
  • Anticholinergics (like Ditropan) 

This weekend, two-thirds of the U.S. will experience a massive heat wave. Places as far north as New York City and Boston have warned folks of the high temps, which will soar into the upper 80s and 90s but feel like they are in the 100s due to the high humidity.

Worse, the demand for air conditioning also puts a strain on power companies. Experts are already warning folks in cities like D.C., Chicago, and New York that a power outage could easily happen during this heat wave.

That's why we want to remind you to stay safe and use common sense this weekend and throughout any other times of severe heat. Here are some of the best tips we have:

1. Get plenty of sleep. A few studies highlight the connection between sleep and our bodies regulating our temperature. Although small in nature, these studies show that depriving ourselves of sleep means we don't react as well to stressors like heat. That also means we can't regulate our body temps as well.

2. Take breaks. I avoid going out too long between about 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. during the summer or on very sunny days. This is the hottest part of the day and the strongest the sun will be. If you have to be outside, take breaks often in the shade or inside in the air conditioning.

3. Drink plenty of fluids. The first sign of dehydration is thirst. But the problem is, as we get older, we also lose the ability to feel thirsty. Be sure to keep water with you and drink regularly. The Department of Labor advises outdoor workers to drink four cups of water every hour while the heat index is between 103 and 115 degrees. And remember, alcohol and caffeine dehydrate you, so try to avoid these on days you'll be outside.

4. Have water available for soaking, too. Washcloths in cool water will help you cool down. And try taking a cool bath and letting yourself air dry.

5. Avoid cooking or using appliances that generate excess heat. This is a good chance to eat fresh produce and other light, healthy snacks. Similarly, don't eat heavy meals that will ramp up your metabolism.

6. Seek well-ventilated and air-conditioned spaces. If you lose power or don't have air conditioning, try to find a cool place like a movie theater, mall, or library. If you're home, stay on the lower floor. Cover the windows to keep the sun out. If you don't have air conditioning, try putting a pan of ice water in front of a box fan to create a cool stream of air.

7. Set up a way for family to check on each other. Keep a list of contacts in case of a power outage. Even if the power stays on, checking in will help make sure you and your other family members are all safe from the heat.

Use these seven tips to help you stay safe this weekend and the rest of the summer. How do you plan to survive the heat wave? Let us know: [email protected].

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
July 18, 2019