March 3, 2024

Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke: Doctors warn hot temperatures can bring health issues

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — With southeast Pennsylvania in an Excessive Heat Warning, experts advise many people, especially those in medically sensitive groups, to stay indoors.

However, not everyone has the option of staying indoors.

Rashaan Sadiq Smith is one of those residents. His livelihood depends on him being outside as he runs his business, Sadiq’s Landscaping.

“I’m out here seven days a week,” he said as he cut grass near Woodside Park neighborhood.

“Sun, snow, doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’ll be there.”

He works rain or shine. Lately, it’s been a lot more shine with temperatures in the 90s and heat indices well over 100. But even in the sun, Smith wears a long-sleeved shirt and pants.

“The sun doesn’t beat on me, it just beats on my shirt,” he says of his preferred way of dressing.

Smith could be on to something, according to Dr. John Kowalski of Jefferson Einstein Health. He says landscapers are often well-equipped to stay outdoors all day.

“(The sleeves) protect them from the sun to some extent,” he said. “But you can still become overheated.”

Kowalski recommends people wear light-colored, reflective clothing that doesn’t absorb the heat of the sun as much as dark colors.

“Try to dress in light layers,” he said.

Doctors say the symptoms of heat exhaustion can sneak up on you, so you should recognize the signs your body gives you.

“The basic thing for people need to look out for is just being thirsty. That’s one of the telltale signs of getting dehydrated,” said Kowalski.

Dr. Christopher Valente, who is chief of the Pediatric Emergency Department at Reading Hospital, has seen instances where the heat sends more people to emergency rooms.

“Their skin will be either dry and red or cool and clammy. Generally, they’ll feel nauseous, dizzy, lightheaded,” he said.

Those are all signs of heat exhaustion which can progress to heat stroke.

“The patient starts to become confused or maybe they lose consciousness,” Valente said while describing symptoms of heat stroke.

Having that type of medical episode could put people at risk for incidents that could land them in the office of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Rahul Shah.

“You get woozy from the heat and you start to have difficulty with your balance or ability to move, you could potentially fall,” said Shah.

Those who are active in the heat know they need to hydrate. Brandon Cherry hydrated before spending more than an hour playing tennis on Friday morning.

“I started getting into coconut water,” he said, adding that he also drinks water with a dash of salt in it as a way to replace what he loses through sweat.

“Sixty-five percent of our body is water,” said Shah of the importance of hydration either through water or drinks with electrolytes.

“Drinking plenty of water is really, really important,” said Valente.

But there are also things doctors say people shouldn’t drink too much of on a hot day.

“Alcohol can definitely dehydrate you,” said Kowalski.

Doctors say anyone taking medication should be aware that it could affect their ability to handle the heat.

They also share this tip to cool off quickly: take a wet towel and put it on your wrists, neck, temples, forehead and/or groin. Those areas have more blood vessels helping you to cool off quickly.

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