(SOURCES: Robert Glatter, M.D., emergency physician, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
MONDAY, July 2 (HealthDay News) -- It's bad enough that a record-breaking heat wave is throttling the eastern half of the United States, but millions of people have no electrical power to help them cope with the searing temperatures.
An estimated 2 million customers from North Carolina to New Jersey and as far west as Illinois had no power Monday morning, USA Today reported, and utilities companies said the power outage could last several more days.
Without power, people are struggling to cope with the dangerously high temperatures, unable to follow standard advice that includes retreating to the air conditioning or using fans to keep cool.
Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, advises cooling off in a pool or other body of water. He also advises drinking plenty of water throughout the day to prevent dehydration.
"Don't just drink when you are thirsty -- keep ahead of your thirst and drink consistently throughout the day," he said.
Sports drinks that contain electrolytes such as sodium and potassium with small amounts of glucose may help 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.
Signs that you are overheated or at risk for a heat-related problem include dizziness, nausea and headache. If children or the elderly have any of these signs, they should go to an emergency room for medical attention.
"If people have an elevated temperature and are confused, it is important not to administer things like Advil, Tylenol or aspirin, because these medicines can worsen heat stroke," Glatter said. "Don't give medicines that lower temperature for a heat-related emergency."
If you have power but no air conditioning, you can spray your body with water and sit in front of a fan to keep cool, he said.
Many seniors take medications that hamper the body's ability to cool itself through sweating, including diuretics and some blood pressure drugs. People who are overweight also may 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.
Wear loose, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to shield yourself from the sun's rays if you have to spend time outdoors, Glatter said.
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 hot temperatures can cause serious health problems, so the CDC recommends listening to local media reports or contacting 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 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 others:
For more on coping with heat waves, go to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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