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Wellness Matters: Staying Cool in the Summer Heat

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The following weekly column is written and sponsored by Virginia Hospital Center, a proud member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network and one of America’s 100 Top Hospitals for the third year in a row.

The AC is blasting, the iced tea is flowing and everybody is looking for the nearest pool. Welcome to summer in the District! For most of us, hot weather is an uncomfortable nuisance. But it’s also a potential health risk that can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke.

“We generally start to see patients with heat related illnesses around Memorial Day Weekend and this year has been no exception. With the very high temperatures, we’re seeing patients on a regular basis with heat related issues,” says Michael Silverman, MD, Chairman, Department of Emergency Medicine at Virginia Hospital Center.

Here’s how to stay cool when temperatures rise.

  • Keep it loose. Wear loose-fitting clothes in a light color. Opt for cotton if you can.
  • Scale back your workout. Exercise early in the morning or later in the evening when air is cooler. Decrease your exertion level. On very hot days, exercise inside in air conditioning.
  • Combat dehydration. Drink water to stay hydrated. Avoid caffeine, soft drinks and alcohol.
  • Turn off the oven. Try recipes that don’t need cooking.
  • Circulate! Run electric or hand-held fans to keep air moving freely. Even when the air conditioning is on, fans help reduce mugginess.
  • Beat bedtime heat. Take a bath or shower in tepid water. Keep lotion in the refrigerator and apply before bed.
  • Use common sense. On scorching days, stay inside. If you must go out, stick to shady areas and avoid excessive activity. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, spend part of the day somewhere that does, such as a mall, library or movie theatre.

Young children, the elderly, and people with chronic health problems such as heart or lung disease are particularly vulnerable to heat and should always stay in cool places during hot weather.

Heat-related Illness

“Dehydration and heat cramps are the earliest symptoms of heat-related illness. Stop what you’re doing, rest and allow your body to cool down. Drink some water and stretch the muscles that are cramping,” advises Dr. Silverman.

Left untreated, dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion. Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, clammy skin, nausea and vomiting, headache and lightheadedness. Move to a cooler location, lie down and loosen your clothing. Apply wet, cool cloths to your body and sip some water. If your symptoms continue, seek medical attention immediately.

Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke–a form of hyperthermia in which the body’s temperature regulation system fails. Symptoms include body temperature above 104°F, hot and red skin, confusion, rapid pulse, shallow breathing and possible unconsciousness. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can be fatal without prompt treatment. Call 911 immediately. While waiting for paramedics to arrive, initiate first aid: move to a cooler location, remove any unnecessary clothing and apply wet, cool cloths to the body, especially the head, neck, armpits and groin.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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