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Experts weigh in on how to stay protected during dangerous summer heat waves

mccarren park pool cooling center
The city has opened dozens of publicly-available cooling centers and extended hours at public pools as a string of extremely hot days continues.
File photo by Ken Yapelli

In the United States alone, heat waves contribute to an estimated 5,600 deaths per year. This summer’s heat waves are no different, as millions try to stay safe amidst 2022’s unprecedented high temperatures.

Right now, 100 million Americans are under alerts for excessive heat, with a heat wave expected to hit the New York City metropolitan area this weekend with highs — and lows —in the 90s with high humidity. 

How can you protect yourself? Brooklyn Paper spoke with Dr. Adriana Quinones-Camacho, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Health, seeking tips to keep yourself and loved ones safe during the upcoming scorchers.

First and foremost, the doctor said: “Watch the clock.”

“Stay inside between noon and 3 p.m. when the sun is the strongest,” Quinones-Camacho said. “Rest in the shade whenever possible if venturing out cannot be avoided.”

Quinones-Camacho also recommends the following:

Hydrate yourself

Drink eight ounces of water every 20 minutes when outside. Drink water even when you are not thirsty.  Sports drinks may also be helpful. If you have heart problems, make sure to ask your doctor about daily fluid intake. Finally, drink water before heading to bed and in the middle of the night, if you wake up.

Eat hydrating foods

Foods like watermelons and cucumbers can also help you cool off. And, remember to drink additional water after eating salty foods. 

Avoid soda, juice and alcohol

These drinks tend to slow the passage of water from the digestive system to the bloodstream, according to Quinones-Camacho. Excessive alcohol intake may raise risk for heat stroke during scorching weather.

Protect your skin

Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool down and increases dehydration. It is best advised to wear a wide-brimmed hat, wraparound sunglasses, and lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

Check in on your neighbors

During periods of increased temperatures, be sure to check in on your neighbors and family members, especially those who are elderly or live alone. Make sure your loved ones are safe and staying cool.”

If you suspect that you or a loved one is beginning to get overheated, it’s important for swift action to be taken. 

“Some warning signs are thirst and the feeling like your heart is racing. I would immediately go indoors to an air conditioned room and drink some fluids. That should be either water or Gatorade, something with electrolytes,” said Dr. George Fernaine, also a cardiologist at NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn.

So, why are heat waves so dangerous? Fernaine describes the devastating impact extreme heat can have on the human body. 

“A heat wave can cause a lot of physiologic changes in your body. It increases your core temperature. It can make you tachycardic, meaning that your heart rate is very fast. It could drop your blood pressure. It can also give you altered mental status where you get confused,” said Fernaine. “People who are prone to this are the elderly, young children, and people with underlying diseases such as, coronary disease, diabetes, and obesity.”

There has also been a growing sentiment on social media that experts are sensationalizing the risk of heat waves. A TV interview with meteorologist John Hammond has recently gone viral due to the cavalier attitude of GB News anchor Bev Turner. 

 

Despite some who disagree with the dangers of high temperatures, summer heat waves have caused the death of 10 New Yorkers each summer from 2010 to 2019, and indirectly caused the death (by exacerbating an underlying condition) of 100 New Yorkers each summer from 2010 to 2018, according to the 2021 New York City Heat-Related Mortality Report.

“They need to rethink it,” Fernaine said in response to those who don’t take the risks of heat waves seriously. “[Heat waves] can absolutely be lethal. If they’ve spent any time outside in a heat wave and not had any water to drink, I’m sure they wouldn’t feel well. So, I would say that they’re wrong. I don’t know how else to phrase it.”

With a heat advisory in effect in Kings County at least through Sunday evening, the city has opened dozens of free, publicly-available cooling centers where Brooklynites can stay cool and out of the sun. For a full list of cooling centers, and additional heat wave resources, check out Brooklyn Paper’s previous reporting.

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