Though there are some clouds in the sky in Southern Arizona this week, it’s no time to grow lax in self-hydration or awareness of the dangers of heat exhaustion.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average 658 people succumb to extreme heat each year.
Heat-related illness can cause a number of serious issues ranging from headaches and fatigue all the way up to death.
By remaining mindful of your body and following good precautionary measures, heat-related illness is preventable.
Sierra Vista Fire and Medical Services Fire Marshall Paul Cimino said heat exhaustion and heat stroke often turn into medical emergencies; and it’s common in the area. He said he was actually just dealing with a case of it when the Herald/Review called.
“It can happen in a moment’s notice, especially outside when you’re doing yard work, sports, whatever,” he said. “When you’re out there you don’t see these things (signs of heat exhaustion) and it can sneak up suddenly; makes it scary.”
Cimino said there are a variety of symptoms that can signal to someone that they are nearing or are already experiencing heat exhaustion, including extreme thirst or headaches.
“Severe fatigue, severe sweating and altered mental status are all symptoms,” he said. “Treatment should be before heat stroke can actually occur and it can become a true medical emergency.”
“With heat stroke you can see hot, dry, leathery skin and you’re not sweating anymore and the body temperature can rise.”
There is a difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which is a more serious affliction that requires medical attention. A person who is experiencing heat stroke can go unconscious and their body temperature could rise to 107 degrees.
Cimino said one of the most important things someone can do when suffering any kind of heat-related illness is to get the person into a cool area and out of the sun.
“Call 911 because seconds count and they have to evaluate a person,” Cimino said. “Cool them down, maybe with a cool washcloth but don’t submerge them in ice because you want to bring their temperature down gradually.”
Due to the severity of effects that heat-related illnesses can bring, Cimino said when in doubt always call 911 for help.
“Vital organs and everything else takes a hit; it will affect vital organs, especially the brain,” he said. “You don’t want to take it lightly.”
The most vulnerable to heat-related illness are adults age 65 and older, people who work or exercise outside, children, the homeless and people who have pre-existing medical conditions.
Along with the more serious heat illnesses, there are also minor injuries/illness that the sun can cause like sunburn, heat rash and heat cramps.
Cochise County Health and Social Services Public Information Officer Ray Falkenberg reiterated the most important tips in preventing and treating heat related illness.
Though he said Cochise County doesn’t experience as a high a risk as Tucson or Phoenix, it’s important to remain mindful of the heat.
“It isn’t such a threat as other places,” he said. “Don’t leave pets or people in the car. It’s (the heat) not as in your face when you run into the store for five minutes and leave the dog, cat or grandparent but even when the windows are cracked it only takes minutes for someone or something to overheat.”
Falkenberg said that the county really recommends that people check in with at-risk people, such as the elderly, to make sure they are OK and not overheated.
The best ways to “treat” heat-related illness are rooted in prevention. It’s recommended that people always be prepared when they are spending time outdoors by carrying enough water and sunscreen on them.
”Start the day out right and don’t wait to start feeling the affects of the heat; make sure you have high intakes of water,” Cimino said. “Avoid caffeine and alcohol; it will deplete cells and make you sweat more.”
”They might taste good but they are not maintaining cells.”