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Vanderbilt emergency doctors warn against heat emergencies

Aug. 4, 2008, 4:32 PM

Vanderbilt’s emergency physicians are urging the public to take precautions in the extreme heat.

Corey Slovis, M.D., chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and medical director for Metro-Nashville Fire Department EMS and Nashville International Airport, said prolonged heat day after day can lead to dehydration.

"Having several days of high temperatures can lead to dehydration," Slovis said. "We are urging people to get out of the sun."

Slovis said the high temperatures, combined with high humidity, creates a dangerous scenario for people who work outdoors, or those who do not have air conditioning.

"When it doesn’t cool off at night, people do not have a chance to rehydrate," he said.

Slovis said the emergency department often sees two different types of heat emergencies – heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion, which is caused by dehydration, is indicated by headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea and cool, moist skin. Heat stroke, the most serious heat emergency, is indicated by a body temperature over 105 degrees, irrational behavior, extreme confusion, dry, hot and red skin, and rapid, shallow breathing.

Slovis offers these tips to avoid a heat emergency:

1. Avoid prolonged direct exposure to bright sunlight—take a time out in the shade, wear a broad-brimmed hat, or shield yourself from the sun in some other way.

2. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting cotton clothing.

3. Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids. Alcohol predisposes people to heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

4. Remember that some people are more vulnerable than others: the very young, the very old and people who are taking diuretics or anti-hypertensive medications have greater risk from the heat.

5. Know the symptoms of heat problems: "Just not feeling right" — lethargy, dizziness, trouble concentrating and slurred speech are common early symptoms.

6. Know how to respond to heat problems: Get affected person to a cool area out of the direct sunlight, keep them wet with cool water or wet towels, turn a fan on them to help cool the body. If the person quickly feels better, it’s likely that no further medical attention is needed. If symptoms persist, get the person to a doctor.

Media Contact: Jerry Jones, (615) 322-4747

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