MELROSE PARK, Ill. – Chicagoans, like many across the nation, are experiencing the “dog days of summer” and medical experts at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of the Loyola University Health System, warn residents to take extra precautions to safeguard their health.
In Chicago, excessive heat warnings are in effect through Friday, July 22, with heat index readings peaking between 110 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Indiana Department of Environmental Management have declared today an Air Pollution Action Day due to elevated pollution levels.
"Those with chronic conditions, as well as the elderly and the very young, are most vulnerable to extreme temperatures," said Jessica Bartfield, MD, a Gottlieb Memorial Hospital physician specializing in internal medicine and nutrition. "But with heat and temperatures climbing to the high 80s, 90s and above, everyone's health and safety is potentially at risk."
Dr. Bartfield recommends staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water. "Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages that can cause dehydration," she said. "Fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables are also a great way to get important vitamins and minerals as well as to help you stay hydrated."
Signs that you may be dehydrated include skin "tenting" (Gently pinch skin on arm. If it is slow to relax or forms a ridge, you need to drink water) or darkened urine (urine should be a pale yellow). "Don't wait until you feel thirsty; and if you exercise, make sure you drink more water than usual," Dr. Bartfield said. “The elderly often lose their ability to determine thirst and are at greater risk for dehydration, so it is important that they continually drink water and stay hydrated.”
Hot temperatures can also bring painful muscle spasms called heat cramps. "When you drink lots of water but don't replace salt lost through perspiration, muscles can cramp up," Dr. Bartfield said. "Try drinking an electrolyte solution (such as a non-caffeinated sports drink), but if cramps don't ease, seek medical attention." Dr. Bartfield also advises those who exercise outdoors to do so early in the morning when temperatures are not as high and the sun is less intense.
Joseph Leija, MD, an allergist who performs the Gottlieb Allergy Count, warns that those who are older, have chronic conditions or sensitive respiratory systems can experience breathing difficulties in high heat and humidity.
"Hot air that is heavy with moisture is difficult to breathe and causes added stress on already-compromised health," he said. "Stay in the air conditioning and talk to your physician or your allergist about adjusting your medication to accommodate the extreme heat."
Dr. Leija reports that during times of high temperatures, the body normally perspires to self-regulate or cool off. "When it is hot and very humid, perspiration doesn't air dry, and a cooling effect is not obtained."
Dr. Leija notes that heat can cause skin rashes, often confused with allergic reactions. "Take cool showers or baths and keep skin clean, cool and dry with a dusting of fragrance-free talcum powder, cornstarch or baking soda," he said. "Wear loose cotton clothing that allows air to circulate."
Sunburns can happen even when skin is covered with clothing. "I recommend using a broad-spectrum, waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher," said Lisa Liu, MD, who practices family medicine at Gottlieb. "Broad-spectrum sun lotions are now readily available with an SPF of up to 85 offering excellent protection."
A person's risk for melanoma -- the most serious form of skin cancer -- doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns. "The Skin Cancer Foundation recently reported that 42 percent of people polled get a sunburn at least once a year," Dr. Liu said. "Cancer from sun exposure is largely preventable through using sunscreen and common sense."
Proper sunglasses protect not only the lens, cornea and other parts of your eye, but the eyelid and surrounding skin.
"Choose sunglasses that offer ultraviolet (UV) eye protection for the best coverage against harmful sun," said Brian Proctor, an ophthalmologist at Gottlieb. "UV exposure contributes to the development of certain types of cataracts." Those who are frequently active in the sun, including boaters, golfers and those who live in sunny climates can be at risk for cataracts. "Choose sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays and select a large lens or wraparound style for best coverage," he said. "Some contact lenses do offer UV protection, but they don't cover the entire sensitive eye area, so sunglasses are still highly recommended."
Know Your Signs
Heat exhaustion is a common heat-related ailment that occurs during hot weather. Thomas James, MD, who practices family medicine at Gottlieb, says it’s important to recognize the warning signals. "Signs of heat exhaustion include being sweaty, weak, tired or even giddy, nauseous, with a high body temperature and pale, sometimes flushed, clammy skin," he said.
Dr. James recommends treating heat exhaustion by resting in a cool place and drinking an electrolyte solution, such as a non-caffeinated sports drink. "In severe cases involving vomiting or fainting, see your physician or go immediately to the emergency department," he said.
Heat stroke is caused when sweating stops and the body cannot get rid of excess heat. Symptoms of heat stroke include: mental confusion, fainting or seizures; body temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and hot, dry skin, usually red or bluish in color. "Call 911 immediately for an ambulance, then move the person to a cool area and soak with cool water," Dr. James said. "Fan the person vigorously to increase cooling."