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Heat health: Tips on when to head to the emergency room

August 15, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Even with all the high temperatures the past few days, our bodies don't completely get used to it. Emergency room doctors say it appears many people let their guard down -- and that's when they can get hurt. But when should you head to the E.R.?

"More people die of heat-related illness than they do from earthquakes, floods, tornados, hurricanes, lightning strikes combined," says Dr. Joel Geiderman, the co-director of emergency department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Dr. Geiderman says people forget the heat is dangerous, and most people come to the E.R. because they can't tell if their symptoms are serious.

"People will sometimes get cramps, sometimes they will obviously feel dizzy, their heart pounding," says Dr. Geiderman.

Here's his advice:

  • If you get a headache, feel light-headed or tired, get to a cool place and slowly take in fluids.
  • You seek medical attention when you feel dizzy or light-headed, when you have a weak or rapid pulse, or when you feel faint upon standing.
  • Other danger signs are disorientation and severe muscle cramps.
  • The elderly need to be especially vigilant, because chronic conditions and medications make it difficult for their bodies to cool. Many aren't mobile (which is also true of young children).
  • Now that some schools are back in session, Dr. Geiderman strongly advises against any afterschool exercise or workout programs while the temperatures remain so high.

While the very young and the elderly are susceptible to heat-related illnesses for various reasons, Dr. Geiderman says it's the 15- to 20-year-olds who notoriously take risks.

"Teenagers are reckless on their own and they think they're supermen," said Dr. Geiderman. "And I think sometimes the coaches get on the same thing, they think these kids are indestructible."

Dr. Geiderman says you should always listen to your body, and never hesitate to head to an E.R. if you're concerned.

"People get scared. We never blame anybody for coming to the emergency department," said Dr. Geiderman. "But there are better places to cool off."


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