ST. GEORGE — Over the last week, temperatures in Southwest Utah have soared. While excessive heat warnings haven’t been issued yet for St. George, they have been issued for the region from Mesquite to Las Vegas. With temperatures reaching triple digits and looking to stay that way for awhile, it is time to re-examine some basic facts about how to stay healthy in extreme temperatures.
Dave Heaton, public information officer for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, a fact few people realize.
“Approximately 400 people die every year in the U.S. from heat-related issues,” Heaton said.
The triple threat of conditions to look out for in the high temperatures are dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. All of these ailments can be killers, especially in the dry desert of the American Southwest.
“We especially want to warn people to never leave pets or children alone in cars for any length of time,” Heaton said. “Cars can heat up surprisingly fast in the summer; pets and especially little kids can’t cool off as fast as adults. That can be another life-threatening situation.”
The Mayo Clinic defines dehydration as the state when your body uses or loses more fluid than you take in. In this state, your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out normal functions. Those most at risk include the very young, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses.
Consuming enough fluids is the most important step desert dwellers can take to ensure continued survival beneath the baking influence of the sun. Without hydration, the painful — even fatal — outcomes of heat exhaustion and heat stroke can come on quickly.
One of the most important tips to remember when it comes to fluid intakes is that you don’t want to wait to drink water until you are thirsty. Thirst is not a good indicator of dehydration; by the time a person feels thirsty, they are already well on their way to dehydration. Drink fluids long before thirst is felt, and if thirsty, drink more than is necessary to quench your thirst.
Water is still the best fluid for remaining hydrated. The American Heart Association said that sports drinks like Gatorade have their uses — such as for high-intensity workouts in the heat — but also contain a high percentage of sugar and calories, making them less desirable for the average person.
Foods with high-water content such as fruits and vegetables are also recommended.
Another indicator is the color of your urine. If it is clear or light-colored, you should be good to go, but if it appears dark at all, it is time to hit the water.
Heat exhaustion is the close companion of dehydration; you rarely have one without the other. According to WebMD, there are two types of heat exhaustion: water depletion and salt depletion. Water depletion manifests itself with excessive thirst, headache, weakness and loss of consciousness. Salt depletion’s symptoms are generally nausea, vomiting, weakness and muscle cramps.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- dark-colored urine (see hydration, above)
- muscle or abdominal cramps
- nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- pale skin
- profuse sweating
- rapid heartbeat
To treat heat exhaustion, the first step is to remove the affected person from the heat. An air-conditioned space is ideal. If it isn’t possible to get indoors, find the shadiest spot possible for the person to rest in.
Have the person drink lots of fluids, but avoid caffeinated drinks as they operate as diuretics and can increase dehydration. Remove any kind of restrictive clothing.
If possible, have the overheated person take a cool shower or bath, or even use a bandanna, sponge or piece of clothing to soak in water and apply to the skin. If available, use fans to increase the cooling effect.
If the attempts to bring relief to the affected person have not worked with 15 minutes, it is time to seek medical help. Heat exhaustion can quickly progress to heat stroke (see next section).
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are tied closely to the heat index. The heat index is a measurement of how hot a person feels when the effects of temperature and relative humidity are combined. Any time the heat index rises to 90 degrees or more, the possibility of heat-related illnesses grows.
Heat stroke is a much more serious condition, one that can lead to serious complications or even death. Also known as sunstroke, this condition is considered a medical emergency, and informing emergency personnel must always be the first step in treatment.
The Mayo Clinic defines heat stroke as “a condition caused by your body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. This most serious form of heat injury, heatstroke can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 F (40 C) or higher.”
Heat stroke must be treated immediately. If left untreated, it can cause irreparable harm to internal organs such as the kidneys, brain and heart.
The symptoms of heat stroke include the following:
- elevated temperature of 104 degrees or higher — this is the primary symptom of heat stroke
- altered mental state and erratic behavior — confusion, slurring words, agitation, delirium, seizures and even coma can result
- unusual sweating patterns — the skin of a person suffering from heat stroke brought on by exposure to high temperatures will often feel dry to the touch; whereas the skin of a person suffering from heat stroke brought on by overexertion will likely feel moist.
- nausea and vomiting
- flushed skin
- rapid breathing
- accelerated heart rate
A person with heat stroke needs medical help immediately. Call 911 or call local emergency services.
Immediately take action: remove the person from the heat and/or sun, and get them indoors or into the shade. Remove all excessive clothing. Get the person cool by any means necessary — get them into a tub of cool water or into a cool shower. Spray them with cool water, give them a cool sponge bath or place ice packs on their head, armpits or groin areas.
Tips for beating the heat
The National Weather Service maintains a list of tips on how to stay healthy during excessive heat events
- Slow down. When temperatures soar, it is time to reduce overall exertion and reserve high-energy activities for the coolest portions of the day. In particular, young children and the elderly should attempt to stay in the coolest possible place, which may not necessarily be indoors.
- Dress appropriately. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that is light in color in order to reflect both sunlight and heat.
- Eat the right foods. Light, easy to digest foods with high water content such as salads, fruits or vegetables are ideal. When packing food, make sure it is stored in a cooler or packed with an ice pack. Hot weather makes foods spoil faster.
- Drink lots of water. Avoid alcoholic or caffeinated drinks. Drink even when not thirsty. If on a diet that restricts fluid intake or if unable to retain fluids, make sure to consult with a physician.
- Embrace air conditioning. Utilize air condition in the car or at home, or spend time in air-conditioned locations such as libraries or malls.
- Minimize direct exposure to the sun. The human body cannot dissipate heat as efficiently when exposed to direct sunlight.
- Use electric fans to reduce room temperature, but do not point fans directly at your body. The air current will lead to dehydration more quickly.
- Take cool showers or baths.
- Unless directed by a physician, do not take salt tablets.
- Keep a close eye on the elderly, ill, children and pets. Each year, numerous children and pets left in parked vehicles die from hyperthermia.
- Keep valuable electronic equipment out of hot cars.
- If using volatile chemicals, make sure rooms are well ventilated.
Following the heat advisory for Las Vegas, Nevada, issued by the National Weather Service, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reminded local residents about steps they should take to protect their health from the extreme heat.
Dr. Nicole Lurie, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said:
People may not often think about it but extreme heat can have devastating effects on health. Young children, older adults, and people on certain medications can be particularly vulnerable to heat. Recognizing the signs of heat stress and knowing what to do can save a life.
- American Heart Association staying hydrated – staying healthy page
- WebMd heat exhaustion web page
- Mayo Clinic web page for heat stroke
- National Weather Service list on how to respond to excessive heat events
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention extreme heat web page
- National Institute on Aging hyperthermia web page
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.