Temperatures have been rising in the region over the past few weeks and normally that means emergency rooms are seeing more patients with heat-related illnesses.
But as local outdoor attractions such as Busch Gardens Williamsburg remained closed, the number of heat-related illnesses has decreased significantly, said Dr. James McCorry, chief medical officer for Riverside Doctors Hospital.
“It’s good overall because the people who pass out at the parks and get transported out, it ruins their trips,” he said. “Typically in the summer, we get some of these patients so we’re used to it, but we’re just not seeing it this summer.”
McCorry said the hospital also hasn’t seen many people come in because jobs that require a lot of outdoors work aren’t currently operating.
Those changes come just months after local hospitals were concerned about the decrease of total patients coming to the Emergency Room during the coronavirus pandemic. Riverside officials said in April there had been approximately a 45 percent decrease in patients coming to the emergency room because people were avoiding the hospital even when they had serious symptoms.
McCorry said now the number of patients in the emergency room has steadily continued to increase but it’s lower than typical numbers.
“Emergency room volume is down all over the country and we’re tending to see sicker people” he said. “It’s a concern for me as a physician because patients tell me they’re scared of coming to the hospital. But we’ve tried to address that and encourage people to call their doctor.”
McCorry said during a normal summer there would typically be many patients coming in with heat exhaustion because they aren’t acclimated to the weather. Part of that is because the area is so humid, which means the body produces less sweat to cool off.
There are also many patients who come in with heat-related muscle cramps and other health issues related to the weather.
But there are ways to prevent the heat from taking its toll on the body.
McCorry said visitors to the area, and even residents, should take time to slowly acclimate their body to the weather. This means going out for moderate exercise regularly and drinking lots of fluids.
“If people are going to do these outdoor activities, they should do them in the morning when it’s cool and there’s less chance of thunderstorms,” he said. “Because even in the evening it’s still fairly hot outside.”
If a person plans to go out and exercise, they should not only look at the heat index but also the humidity for that day.
“It’s heat plus humidity that really affects people,” he said. “So on a hot day with low humidity, you’re not going to feel the effects of exercising as much as on a hot day when the humidity is really high.”
The American Red Cross also suggests eating small meals more often, wearing loose-fitting clothing and avoiding strenuous activity as much as possible.
McCorry said heat-related illnesses typically happen most in July and August.
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