Frank LoVecchio, D.O., is a medical toxicologist at the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center. For more information, call the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-222-1222.
Question: I am new to Arizona. As the outdoor temps creep up towards the 100-degree mark, I am wondering about the best ways to protect myself from heat illness. What do you suggest?
Answer: The average daily high temperature in Phoenix during the summer is about 104 degrees. This means, those working or playing outside, or even those of us who are just commuting from one location to another, should take steps to protect ourselves from heat exhaustion.
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness developed after exposure to high temperatures with inadequate replacement of fluids. People taking medications, such as high blood pressure or antihistamines, people working or exercising in hot environments and the elderly are most prone to suffering from heat exhaustion. Some warning signs of heat exhaustion include: heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, dizziness, tiredness, nausea, vomiting and fainting.
Alcoholic beverages and caffeine should be avoided because both are diuretics, increasing urination, which promotes dehydration. Large, protein-rich meals increase metabolic heat and warm the body. It is important to be aware of these substances and always drink sufficient amounts of fluids to prevent the feeling of thirst which can lead to dehydration. When people develop thirst, they are at least a half-liter behind in fluid balance.
When someone is experiencing heat exhaustion they need to take effective measures to help cool the body. Drinking cold, non-alcoholic beverages, taking cool showers or baths, and resting in air-conditioned environments with good circulation are good ways to lower the body’s temperature. Soaking your feet or wearing wet bandanas can have a cooling effect as well as cool showers. Keep spray bottles for cooling spritzes around the house, and avoid extra sources of heat through incandescent light bulbs or leaving computers and appliances running. Medical care is needed if someone is unresponsive or does not have a quick resolution of their symptoms.