If you have lived in or visited the Valley during the summer, then there is a good chance that you have heard or read about the dangers of our desert climate.
Last year, a young woman who was a picture of health collapsed during a mountain bike ride at a local park. Despite heroic efforts, rescuers were unable to save her life. The cause of death was directly related to the high heat and low humidity that day.
It was discovered that her core body temperature was about the same as the daily high temperature, about 107 degrees. Reports were that she had exhibited early signs of heat exhaustion to her mountain biking partners such as thirst, headache and extreme fatigue. Instead of taking heed of the early warning signs, she pressed on and collapsed due to the late stages of heat exhaustion, which led to coma and death. This example illustrates how we all need to be educated about the dangers of the high heat and dry climate.
Rising temperatures combined with our desert climate add up to health dangers not seen in other areas of the nation. Every year, people who are unprepared for the Valley’s blistering summer heat put their health at risk by doing simple things like hiking or riding a bike in our parks, or even working in the yard.
It’s not necessary to halt your activity during the summer months. Instead, you need to be mindful of when to perform outdoor activities – during the cooler morning hours is preferred. This is particularly important for the very young and older adults who are most severely affected by heat-related illnesses.
That said, summer heat can affect us all.
One of the biggest risks of the summer heat is dehydration. This occurs when your body loses more fluid than it takes in. Without the proper amount of water, the body has trouble performing its normal functions.
The only effective treatment for dehydration is to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily (consume even more as it gets warmer and if you are active) and also eat fruits and vegetables that are high in water content.
Be mindful of the early signs of dehydration, including a dry mouth, fatigue, thirst, headache, muscle cramps, a lack of sweating and a decrease in urine. If symptoms are severe, seek immediate medical attention.
The most serious heat-related condition is heat stroke, which can result from prolonged physical exertion in high temperatures. In such cases, the body is overheated, leading to confusion, nausea and vomiting. If this condition is not immediately treated it will lead to coma and death.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has heat stroke, seek immediate treatment. Additionally, seek shade, a cooler environment, remove excess clothing and cool the person with ice packs or cold, wet towels placed on the head, neck, armpits and groin.
Remember, too, that the summer sun can increase the risk of skin cancer. Be sure to apply sunscreen (SPF 50 or higher) daily and avoid the sun during peak hours – between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Also wear protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. If you or a family member has a sunburn, drink plenty of water and soothe the burn with a pain reliever such as acetaminophen.
Summer in Phoenix doesn’t mean always staying inside or retreating from family and friends. The key is being aware of the dangers of the summer sun and protecting yourself from heat-related illnesses.
Written by: Dr. Jason Kang
Dr. Jason Kang is the director of Emergency Services at Abrazo Scottsdale Campus. For more information, visit AbrazoHealth.com.