TODAY   |  July 07, 2010

How to cope with sizzling heat

Residents of the Northeast are left searching for reprieve as a record heat wave scorches the Eastern seaboard. NBC’s chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman has tips on how to stay cool when the mercury rises.

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ANN CURRY, co-host: Meantime, NBC 's chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman is joining us here to tell us what we need to know to stay safe in this hot weather. Morning, Nancy.

Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hi, Ann.

CURRY: People are calling it -- inside the studio, calling it swampy.

SNYDERMAN: Right.

CURRY: Meredith is calling it Shrek Land . I mean, it is really dangerous, though, beyond funny.

SNYDERMAN: And that's the big worry. It -- for all the fun stuff, it is downright dangerous for people.

CURRY: So hydrate is what the president says. Is -- do you want to add to that?

SNYDERMAN: Hydrate, but be smart. Because when you go out and you sweat a lot, you're losing more than just water, you're losing a lot of salt and potassium. So this is one of those times when you have to replace the sweat that you're losing with regular old water. But this is one of those times when those sports drinks make sense. You have to really get back to your equilibrium. The best way to do it, hydrate before you go outside, if you have to go outside. And I know it's going to sound crazy, but look at the color of your urine.

CURRY: Oh.

SNYDERMAN: If it's dark, you are dehydrated. If it's way, way, way too light, you may have overdone it. And so that color of pale yellow is one of the best indicators as to how healthy you are.

CURRY: Good breakfast conversation.

SNYDERMAN: There you go.

CURRY: But nevertheless, important.

SNYDERMAN: You have to know it.

CURRY: Right. Exactly right. And you say, actually, drink even when you're not thirsty. I mean, this is the time to do that.

SNYDERMAN: By the time you're thirsty -- you're exactly right.

CURRY: Hm.

SNYDERMAN: By the time you're thirsty, you're already down. And what people have to remember are two different things. One is that your body's ability to sweat is your automatic air conditioning . And when the air conditioning doesn't work, the body, your -- the building is going to be in trouble. So there's heat exhaustion where you're still sweating, but you feel lousy. You may feel nauseated. You're a little clammy, but you're still perspiring. You may have cramps, but you don't feel well.

CURRY: What do you do?

SNYDERMAN: That's the time to rehydrate, get out of the sun and really understand that you've overdone it. That is life hurting, but it's not life threatening. What's really dangerous is when you have heat stroke . And that's when the air conditioning just shuts down. You no longer have clammy skin. You have hot, dry skin. Your body temperature goes up to 105 or more, you can faint, you can be disoriented, you can almost look like you're having a stroke. That's a 911 emergency. You have to cool down that body right away. But the time you've gotten there, you might not even have the wherewithal to call for help. So that's why you keep an eye on each other. By the time your body temperature goes up that high, it's a life threatening problem for your heart, your lungs and your brain.

CURRY: All right. Well, sobering information, especially on the news of this.

SNYDERMAN: And for babies and elderly...

CURRY: Especially.

SNYDERMAN: ...less, less, less tolerance.

CURRY: All right. We've already heard about one death in Philadelphia yesterday...

SNYDERMAN: That's right .

CURRY: ... a 90 -year-old woman. Thanks so much, Nancy Snyderman .