WEDNESDAY, June 20 (HealthDay News) -- As the first major heat wave of the summer engulfs the continental United States, health experts are urging people to take special precautions when dealing with scorching temperatures and oppressive humidity.
One of the most important things to do is to drink plenty of water throughout the day to avoid dehydration, said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Sports drinks that contain electrolytes such as sodium and potassium with small amounts of glucose may help to combat dehydration, Glatter noted, but caffeinated beverages and products with high amounts of sugar can worsen dehydration.
Because children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to dehydration, they should be checked on often and encouraged to drink lots of fluids, he added.
Many seniors take medications, including diuretics and some blood pressure drugs, that hamper the body's ability to cool itself through sweating, and people who are overweight may also be prone to heat sickness because of their tendency to retain more body heat, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Along with consuming lots of fluids, try not to stay outside any longer than necessary, Glatter added.
"Stay indoors if possible, preferably in an air-conditioned space," he said. "If only a fan is available, misting with cool water may help to cool you by evaporation."
If you do have to spend time outdoors, wear loose, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat, to shield yourself from the sun's rays, Glatter noted.
The CDC recommends a "buddy system" when working in the heat, to monitor the health of your co-workers and have them do the same for you. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness, and you should call 911 immediately if you see this happening.
Even short periods of searing temperatures can cause serious health problems, so the CDC recommends that you listen to local media reports or contact local health departments for safety updates. Overexerting yourself on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated place can all cause heat-related illnesses.
According to the CDC, there are several types of heat illnesses that you need to watch out for, both in yourself and among others:
For more on heat waves, go to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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