Atrium doctors discuss heat stroke, ways to stay healthy outside

With the temperature hitting blistering highs recently, it’s easier for people to suffer from heat exhaustion and heat stroke if out in the sun for too long.

During a recent Zoom call with local reporters, Dr. Marcos Sosa, an OB/GYN at Atrium Health, and Dr. Bryant Allen, who works at the Emergency Department at Atrium Carolinas Medical Center, discussed the importance of people staying safe during the dog days of summer.

Sosa said heat stroke is a condition where the body excessively overheats to the point where people can start to break down. Though most people sweat when outside in the heat for prolonged times, Sosa said at the very extreme, “there is no longer any sweating and your body is dry and it can no longer get rid of the heat.”

People can become dizzy and confused and over time develop seizures due to heat strokes. They also could experience kidney problems due to muscle tissue breaking down.

“If you have the thought that you are overheating you must get indoors and cool yourself off,” Sosa said, adding that if people are really concerned they could also go to the emergency room.

Sosa’s best recommendation is to avoid excessive heat, especially during peak moments during the day, such as midday. If people decide to go outside to exercise or work in the yard, he recommends they hydrate often. He said pregnant women should drink about 10 eight-ounce glasses of water per day, which may need to be increased if they plan on spending large amounts of time outside. He also recommends people wear wide brim hats and cooling towels, along with sunscreen, when outside as well as keeping ice packs stored in the freezer to apply whenever they get back inside.

Allen said he thinks the biggest reason people come to the emergency room for heat-related injuries are due to lightheadedness, dizziness and fatigue. Too often these people have simply been outside for long periods of the day and have had little to drink and minimal exposure to shade.

If people want to go outside to exercise, Allen recommends people schedule regular stops to properly hydrate, adding that people shouldn’t push themselves to the limit before stopping to grab water.

Allen said one concern right now is that many of the symptoms related to heat stroke (fatigue, body aches, headaches) are also symptoms of the coronavirus. He encourages people to stay inside during the hottest times of the day and drink plenty of fluids and stay in the shade when outside because “you would hate to develop symptoms that sound similar to coronavirus and not know what’s going on.”

One easy way for people to see if they are staying properly hydrated is to simply check their urine, Allen said. If it looks clear, they are likely drinking enough fluids, while if it looks bright yellow, they probably need to be drinking more.

Both doctors emphasized that, despite the coronavirus pandemic, if patients are not feeling well they should not be afraid to go to the hospital.

“If you have a real health question, you need to get that answered, because we don’t want people staying at home when they’re having significant health problems getting worse,” Allen said.