Some Don't Like It Hot
If you’ve lived in Arizona for at least one summer, you are familiar with how hot it can become outside. Since we cannot stop our lives, we occasionally need to be outside under these extreme conditions. Being exposed to such high temperatures, even for a short period of time, can lead to heat exhaustion and eventually heat stroke.
Various types of people are at risk for developing heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Athletes for example, who perform rigorous exercise in these conditions, may be at risk without proper precautions. However, the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions are also at a higher risk. This is due to the fact that as we age the body’s ability to regulate its temperature becomes impaired and those with certain medical conditions may be on medications that blunt these mechanisms. Dehydration, poor physical condition, obesity and not being acclimated to such extreme conditions also leave people more susceptible to developing heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
The mortality rate of those that develop heat stroke is quite high. That is why it is very important to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion, so therapy can be initiated quickly to prevent the progression to heat stroke. Early symptoms to look for are: muscle cramps, rapid heart rate or palpitations, fast breathing, headache, lightheadedness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. These can symptoms can occur together or individually. Once you start having symptoms, it is imperative to rest and cool down the body right away as delaying therapy can lead to organ damage and even death.
Once symptoms of heat exhaustion are recognized, the treatment is focused on lowering the body’s core temperature. This can be done in several ways such as: spraying oneself with water and standing in front of a fan, seeking out shade or cover, removing any extra clothing, taking a cool shower or bath, drinking cool water and/or sports drinks (to help cool the body internally and replenish lost fluids), and/or place a cold pack or towel around the neck or in the armpits.
I cannot stress it enough; the best way to treat heat exposure is to avoid exposure to extreme temperatures all together. However, if this is not possible, be sure to take frequent breaks when being active in such extreme conditions, make sure to stay well hydrated (even if you are not thirsty), try to perform activities earlier in the day when it is cooler, and wear loose, light-weight clothing.
Dr. Joshua Millstein earned his medical degree at the Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine in Glendale and completed his internship and residency at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. He is a board-certified internist who practiced at several Valley locations since 2007 and joined SMGAZ in May 2016.