Mount Sinai’s Dr. Kevin Baumlin says preventing the body temperature from staying above 100 degrees is the key to avoiding heat exhaustion and the more serious heatstroke.
As the vice chair of emergency medicine at Mount Sinai, Dr. Kevin Baumlin sees all comers — anyone who has an illness or injury of some kind. Emergencies related to the extreme heat are common right now. Baumlin has been working in the Mount Sinai ER for 19 years.
WHO’S AT RISK
With the dogs days of August still ahead, it’s a good time to take stock of whether you’re taking the right steps to stay safe in the heat — mid-July’s record-breaking heat wave ended up causing at least nine deaths in New York City.
“When the heat index rises above 100 degrees, we want the public to be aware of the risk of succumbing to heat exhaustion and heatstroke,” says Mount Sinai’s Dr. Kevin Baumlin. “These are syndromes that occur when the body becomes overheated and labors to cool itself down. Preventing your body temperature from staying above 100 degrees is the key.”
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are related syndromes differentiated by severity — heat exhaustion is the first phase, which if unchecked can progress to the more serious phase of heatstroke.
“Heat exhaustion is a syndrome complex that occurs as patients’ body temperatures begin to rise above 98, 99 degrees, causing weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, body pain and confusion,” says Baumlin. “Heatstroke sets in when your core temperature goes above 104.9. Your body starts to stop sweating and you become very ill, your behavior changes markedly, and patients can die if they don’t receive treatment.”
The heat index is a measure that combines air temperature and humidity. “This is how your body perceives the heat — so when it’s more humid out, it feels hotter than the temperature on the thermostat,” says Baumlin. “Humidity interferes with the evaporation of sweat, which is how the body normally cools itself down.”
People are more likely to develop heat exhaustion when the heat index rises above 100; heatstroke is more likely when the index is above 105. Although everyone is at risk in the kind of extreme heat we’ve already seen this summer, certain groups are especially high risk.
“The major people we’re concerned about right now are the very elderly, the young and people with respiratory illnesses,” says Baumlin. “Many elderly patients take medications that compromise their ability to adjust to extreme temperatures, and children often don’t realize when they’re overexerting themselves or dehydrated — especially at the pool, where it’s easy to become dehydrated without knowing it.”