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Climate change has supersized summer heat this year, with Southern California expected to again reach more than 100 degrees mid-month.  Along with the rise in outdoor temperatures, physicians are seeing an increase in heat-related illnesses following weeks of unrelenting hot weather.

The Cedars-Sinai Newsroom spoke to Sam Torbati, MD, medical director of the Cedars-Sinai Emergency Department, and to Stephanie Byrne, MD, a Cedars-Sinai pediatrician, about the dangers of excessive heat.

What are the symptoms of heatstroke? 

Sam Torbati, MD:   Patients with heatstroke, by definition, are those who have a high temperature. When we measure their core temperature, it’s above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. They have a high fever, and with that high fever, there’s confusion, there’s disorientation. They can be comatose; they can have seizures. Their heart rates can be very high, and their blood pressures can be very low, and they need immediate medical attention. 

How do you treat heatstroke?

Sam Torbati, MD:   We initiate medical resuscitation for those patients right away. We start intravenous fluids and we  start to cool them. And if patients are having difficulty with breathing and such, we may need to engage with more advanced interventions as well.  

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What is heat exhaustion and how is it different from heatstroke?  

Stephanie Byrne, MD:  Heat exhaustion can be a precursor to heatstroke and needs to be treated before it becomes more serious. With heat exhaustion, patients may have an elevated temperature, usually between 100 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The patient might have cool, clammy skin, despite being hot. They may feel faint, dizzy or weak. There may be headaches, increased thirst, muscle cramps, nausea and/or vomiting.

How do you treat heat exhaustion, particularly in children? 

Stephanie Byrne, MD:  It’s important for parents to recognize the symptoms, and if they see their child experiencing heat exhaustion, they should bring their child indoors, particularly if it’s during the hot part of the day from noon to 6 p.m. If going indoors is not an option, at the very least, bring the child into the shade. A parent should begin rapid cooling of their child by either pouring cold water on their body and/or giving them cold water to drink. They should also remove excess clothing to help the body cool down.  

How do you prevent adverse reactions to heat? 

Sam Torbati, MD:  The best precaution is avoiding exposure to excessive heat, staying indoors and having access to air-conditioned environments. For patients who are frail and are older, it’s really important for family and neighbors and friends to check in on them periodically. It is also important to monitor the environment of patients who do not have air conditioning, and make sure they have fans that can keep the indoor temperature down, or that they can access cooling centers. Stephanie Byrne, MDFor children, try to keep them indoors during the hottest parts of the day. Make sure they drink lots of water, take rest breaks and wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Common Medical Conditions Aggravated by Sun and Heat

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