Banner Health Services  

Protecting yourself from the summer heat

 

Alan Molk, MD, is an emergency physician at Banner Estrella and Banner Good Samaritan Medical Centers.

Question: With the arrival of summer temperatures here in the Valley, what health concerns should I be aware of, and how can I protect myself from the summer heat?

Answer: Along with triple-digit temperatures comes the need to protect ourselves from heat-related illnesses. During the Arizona summer, heat-related illnesses account for a large number of emergency department visits. The best way to deal with potential heat-related problems is to learn how to prevent them in the first place.
 
There are three basic types of heat-related illness – heat cramps, heat exhaustion—and the most serious—heat stroke.
 
Heat cramps occur mostly in the muscles of the legs, often causing severe pain and spasms. Intense exercise and sweating in hot temperatures can initiate these cramps. Fortunately, the treatment is simple. Find a cool place, rest and drink plenty of fluids, especially sports drinks, like Gatorade. In most cases, the cramps eventually subside.
 
Dehydration can also cause heat exhaustion. Along with heavy sweating, symptoms include dizziness, weakness, nausea, extreme thirst, anxiety and sometimes a low-grade fever. Treatment for heat exhaustion is similar to that of heat cramps, but should be sought more urgently. If your condition does not begin to improve after moving to a cool place and drinking fluids, seek medical help.
 
The most dangerous heat-related illness is heat stroke, which is also life threatening. Heat stroke occurs when the brain cannot properly regulate body temperature under extremely hot and humid conditions. When body temperature rises rapidly over 105 degrees an individual can lose consciousness and slip into a coma. Unless heat stroke is treated immediately, it can be fatal.

If you must be outside, the best time is early in the morning or later in the evening, when the sun and heat are not as intense. Find shaded areas, make sure you have plenty of fluids on hand and listen to your body. If you begin experiencing any of these heat-related symptoms, act quickly.

Important tips for beating the heat:

  • DRINK LOTS OF WATER. Don’t wait until you are thirsty. By the time you become thirsty, dehydration has already begun.
  • Plan outdoor summer activities for early in the morning or late in the day.
  • If you must be outside during the hottest time of the day, seek shade as often as possible.
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine, such as tea, coffee or cola. Caffeine can deplete body fluid.
  • Carry a spray bottle full of water to mist yourself when you are outside in the heat.
  • NEVER LEAVE A CHILD OR PET UNATTENDED IN A CAR! Temperatures inside a car can exceed 120 degrees – hot enough to cause death quickly.
  • Use common sense and listen to your body. If you start to feel ill, get out of the heat and seek help.
Page Last Modified: 02/22/2010
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