ST. GEORGE – The National Weather Service has extended its excessive heat warning for Southern Utah an additional day, marking Monday afternoon through Thursday evening with temperatures up to between 105-115 degrees.
As the heat rises, various heat-related health issues also become a concern. These can include dehydration, hyperthermia and heat cramps, as well as heat exhaustion and heat stroke due to prolonged exposure, according to the NWS.
“Prolonged exposure to heat can result in heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke,” NWS officials said in Friday’s excessive heat warning for the coming week. “Avoid strenuous outdoor activities during the heat of the day.”
Approximately 400 people die each year in the U.S. due to heat-related problems, Dave Heaton, of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, told St. George News last summer following a similar heat wave.
Bring on the water – stay hydrated
Dehydration, as defined by the Mayo Clinic, is a state when your body loses more fluid than it takes in. Dehydration can affect anyone of any age if they do not drink enough water.
Symptoms can include generalized weakness, lightheadedness, confusion, cyclic nausea and vomiting, thirst (but not always), and apple juice-colored urine.
Prolonged dehydration can result in falling (which can result in injury), kidney failure and death.
Hydrating with water is considered the best way to combat dehydration unless there is strenuous exertion or other unusual circumstances.
A person doesn’t have to wait until they are thirsty, as thirst isn’t always the best way to tell if you need a drink. By the time you body is telling you that you need a drink, you’re already low on fluids.
Also hydrate and rehydrate before, during and after activity. Fluid losses increase as the body sweats. Take water or other fluids with each meal, and also take water with you wherever you go, particularly during hot weather.
Foods with high-water content such as fruits and vegetables are also recommended.
It should be noted that seniors, little children and infants are at higher risk for dehydration than others.
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,” Dr. Steve Van Norman, of Dixie Regional Medical Center, previously told St. George News. “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 kids
Christie Benton, a dietitian with Intermountain Healthcare, recommended the following ideas to ensure 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 infants
Doctor and Pediatric Medical Director at DRMC, Marty Nygaard, recommends that babies be kept out of the heat if possible.
Benton said that five to six 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.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke
Heat exhaustion can accompany dehydration, according to WebMD. Water depletion is one of two types of heat exhaustion that can occur and includes symptoms of excessive thirst, weakness, headache and loss of consciousness. Salt depletion, the other type of heat exhaustion, is marked by signs of nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps and dizziness.
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.
Heat exhaustion can be treated by getting the affected individual into an air-conditioned room or shaded area if getting indoors isn’t an option. They also need to drink lots of fluids – caffeine and alcohol are not encouraged – and it is suggested that restrictive clothing be removed.
Getting the person into a cool shower, bath or sponge bath is also advised.
If efforts to provide relief fail within 15 minutes, seek emergency medical aid as heat stroke can occur if the heat exhaustion remains untreated.
“Heatstroke is a condition caused by your body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “This most serious form of heat injury, heatstroke can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 F (40 C) or higher.”
Emergency treatment is required when dealing with heat stroke. Without it, a person can quickly sustain damage to the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage gets worse the longer the condition goes without treatment. This can ultimately result in death.
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.
This article is a combination of material previously compiled by St. George News Editor-in-chief Joyce Kuzmanic and former St. George News reporter Don Gilman.
- 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.
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