ST. GEORGE –It’s getting so hot out there, it’s dangerous.
With temperatures reaching and exceeding 110 degrees in St. George this week, not far from the city’s record high of 117 degrees on July 5, 1985, incidence of heat-related injury increases significantly.
Dixie Regional Medical Center’s emergency room staff confirmed that they have seen an increase in the number of patients treated for heat-related injuries. Brady White, communications specialist for Intermountain Healthcare’s Southwest Region, said in recent weeks the ER has gone from treating zero patients with heat-related injuries to seeing two to three per day.
“The only thing you can do is go (out to practice) early in the morning or late in the evening,” said Desert Hills football coach Carl Franke, when asked if any particular coaching modifications are made in response to this kind of heat. “You’ve got to be smart. If it’s 110 degrees in my car, then it’s probably 125 on the field. So we make sure the players have plenty of fluids and keep a close watch for any signs of heat stroke.”
Local coaches are hyper-aware of the problems the extreme heat can cause. But even those not exerting themselves in pre-season training may suffer dehydration and adverse consequences from the heat if they are not deliberate and attentive.
Besides keeping cool, one of the best defenses for personal wellness during the summer heat is to keep the body hydrated. Many heat related injuries result from dehydration.
Signs and consequences of dehydration
Generalized weakness, lightheadedness, confusion, cyclic nausea/vomiting, thirst (but not always), and apple juice-colored urine are indicators that someone is dehydrated.
Steve Van Norman, MD and Chief Medical Officer at Dixie Regional, said in a provider survey that dehydration is seen more commonly in patients ill with a sickness that causes them to become dehydrated, but also said untreated or delayed treatment of dehydration (whatever the cause) can lead to falls with injury, kidney failure and even death.
Immediate treatments when dehydration is observed include: Small, frequent sips of clear fluids; rest in a cool place; and if the person can’t retain fluid, a trip to the ER.
Hydration for everyone
Hydrating is the intake or absorption of necessary fluids. Water is the best fluid, unless there is strenuous exertion or other unusual circumstances. The following are some key points to insure proper hydration.
• Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Thirst is not the best indicator that you need to drink, it is an indicator that you are already behind on fluids.
• Schedule your fluid intake. Christie Benton, outpatient dietician with Intermountain, recommends “scheduled” fluid replacement as a better approach for daily fluid intake.
• Hydrate and rehydrate before, during and after activity. Fluid losses increase as the body sweats.
• Consume water or fluids when you eat meals.
• Bring water with you wherever you go, and keep water at your bedside.
• Check the color of your urine. If it is the color of apple juice, then you need to drink more water. If it’s the color of lemonade, you are usually okay.
• Remember that humans do not store water. “The body has no provision for water storage,” Benton said in her survey response. “What goes out in 24 hours must be replaced.”
Attention to kids
Benton recommended the following ideas to insure kids are hydrating:
• Schedule water or beverage breaks, especially if kids are playing.
• Serve a beverage with meals and snacks.
• Get them their own “cool” water bottle and keep it filled.
• Offer beverages other than water on occasion, to add calories and variety, especially for active kids.
Attention to seniors
Dehydration can pose a greater risk to seniors. Seniors may be less aware of thirst, less mobile, on diuretics or on medications that amplify the effects of dehydration. Compromised kidney function and certain medications may cause water loss. Ability or inability to provide self-care may also be a factor in seniors at risk for dehydration.
“Unless there is a medical reason to restrict fluids, be pretty liberal with water,” Van Norman said. “There is no medical basis for the ‘8 glasses of water per day’ slogan, but certainly drinking several glasses per day is a good idea. Seniors should need to empty the bladder about every 2-3 hours during the day.”
Attention to infants
Doctor and Pediatric Medical Director at Intermountain’s DRMC, Marty Nygaard, recommends that babies be kept out of the heat if possible.
Benton said that 5-6 wet diapers a day is usually a good indication of proper hydration.
Small amounts of clear liquids should be given frequently if a baby is feverish or vomiting. If fluids can’t be retained, then it’s time to visit the ER.
Nygaard’s survey response to Intermountain stated, “Studies have shown … that children can almost always be re-hydrated without resorting to IV fluids. Sometimes oral hydration requires using a small syringe to give sips.”
Attention to dogs and other pets
For the most part, dogs do not sweat and they cannot tolerate high environmental temperatures. They depend upon panting to exchange warm air for cool air. But when the air temperature is close to their body temperature, panting is not an efficient cooling process for them. Heat stroke is an indicated emergency for canines and requires immediate treatment. Heat is similarly a problem for other animals.
Contributors to overheating dogs are not hard to find with temperatures over 100 degrees, but a list included on Webmd.com is worth noting:
- Being left in a car in hot weather
- Exercising strenuously in hot, humid weather
- Being a brachycephalic breed, especially a Bulldog, Pug, or Pekingese
- Suffering from a heart or lung disease that interferes with efficient breathing
- Suffering from a high fever or seizures
- Being confined on concrete or asphalt surfaces
- Being confined without shade and fresh water in hot weather
- Having a history of heat stroke
Symptoms and treatment are beyond the scope of this article and pet owners or those encountering a dog in distress are referred to the Webmd link above for starters and urged to seek veterinary attention for the dog without delay.
The best advice for all: Stay cool and drink, drink, drink.
Andy Griffin contributed to this article.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.