AtlantiCare Physician Explains Dangers of Excessive Heat, How to Protect Yourself

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Dangerous heat conditions can cause some serious health issues for people.

As we deal with the first heat wave of the summer, a local physician explains the dangers and what you can do to protect yourself.

“In the U.S., on average, there’s more heat related deaths than there is death from the combination of earthquake[s], flood[s], tornado[es], and hurricane[s],” said Dr. Eric Wolk, an attending emergency medicine physician at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center.

Some things to keep in mind is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate [with] cool fluids.

This is a shocking statistic that he sees in the emergency room all too often.

“This is the real killer. This is [what] we really need to be careful about,” said Wolk, who says it happens in four stages.

“It ranges from what we call heat cramps, to heat exhaustion, to heat stroke — which is the final and most severe form of heat-related illness,” said Wolk.

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You can get those mild muscle cramps from being out in the sun for too long.

“If you feel that, that’s your body’s way of telling you, [it's] time to go inside, time to get into the air conditioning, [and] time to start hydrating," said Wolk. "Because the next step is heat exhaustion, which is the lethargy headache.” 

But, it can get much more serious than that.

“Where our core body temperature raises, and we see organ damage, liver damage, kidney failure, and signs of what we call heat stroke, which is when the brain becomes involved and people can go into comas and things of that nature,” said Wolk.

So, he recommends trying to stay out of the heat as much as possible.

“Some things to keep in mind is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate [with] cool fluids," said Wolk. "People don’t realize but when you drink cool fluids your stomach is very near to your heart and then the heart can [disseminate] that coolness to the body.” 

And the type of fluid is extremely important.

“Coffee, alcohol ... they’re dehydrating you," said Wolk. "So it’s really important to take in water or even better than water are your electrolyte supplemented fluids at a cool temperature.” 

But you don’t have to hide from being outside.

If you want to spend some time with your toes in the sand, Wolk recommends going during off-peak hours, like early morning or right around sunset to lessen your chances of suffering from a heat-related illness.

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