With record-breaking temperatures, doctor warns to be wary of heat-related illness

Summer Weather

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Southern New England is in the middle of what will very likely be an official heat wave, with scorching temperatures and humidity to match.

In fact, Rhode Island recorded a record-high 97 degrees on Tuesday, but it felt even hotter than that outside, with a heat index (feel-like temperatures) of 98–104 degrees away from the coast.

To be considered a heat wave, the temperature must exceed 90 degrees for three straight days, which is expected to happen again on Wednesday.

A Heat Advisory will remain in effect for most of Southern New England on Wednesday, along with an Air Quality Alert, meaning unhealthy concentrations of ground-level ozone are expected.

Dr. Mark Zonfrillo, a pediatric emergency medicine physician with Lifespan, said in conditions like these, people should only be outside if absolutely necessary.

“Every year, extreme temperatures can kill hundreds of people in the United States,” he said.

These levels of heat and humidity can be dangerous, especially for young children, older adults, and people with respiratory diseases like asthma or underlying medical conditions.

But even perfectly healthy people can succumb to heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke if they’re not careful.

“If a person is showing signs of a heat stroke, it’s quite rare but potentially very life-threatening, so you want to call 911 right away and get them to a hospital,” Zonfrillo explained.

While excessive sweating can be an indicator of heat exhaustion, heat stroke typically comes with a throbbing headache and no sweating, according to Zonfrillo. He said the best defense against the heat is simple: stay out of it.

“Because of the heat and because of the ultraviolet index and because of the humidity, there’s a much lower tolerance to be able to tolerate this heat,” he said. “So going out for shorter periods of time, making sure you are pre-hydrating and re-hydrating when you come back in is very important.”

Due to the heat, Providence opened 13 water parks with extended hours from noon to 7 p.m. through Wednesday.

In addition to drinking plenty of fluids and staying in air-conditioned or shady areas, Zonfrillo also advised avoiding strenuous activity, especially during the hottest part of the day, as well as wearing light-colored clothing and checking on neighbors to make sure they’re healthy.

And don’t forget, the heat can be dangerous for pets too. Dogs’ paws can get burned by hot pavement, so be cognizant of that when out walking them, and never leave a pet inside a hot vehicle, even with the windows cracked.

Elizabeth Mendenhall, an assistant professor with the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Marine Affairs, tells 12 News the effects of climate change are the primary cause of the extreme heat.

She said 90% of all greenhouse gas emissions are absorbed by the ocean.

“There’s heat exchange going on all the time and the ocean has absorbed most of our excess heat, but it can also re-release some of that heat into the atmosphere,” she said.

That re-release of heat from the ocean is what she believes is behind heatwaves like this one.

“Multiple decades we’ve seen negative impacts, so people are sort of waking up, you know, things aren’t normal anymore,” she said. “Things are getting more extreme. There are bad consequences to this.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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