Monday Medical: Staying safe as temperatures rise
Even in the cool mountain air, it can get surprisingly hot. That’s why it’s important to know how to stay safe in the heat.
“We’re blessed with cool evenings, but it’s not unusual for it to be in the nineties during the day,” said Dr. David Cionni, an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “When it’s 90 degrees with full-on sun, you can get really hot very quickly.”
Check out Cionni’s tips below for preventing and dealing with heat-related issues.
Prepare for the heat
• Acclimate: Just as it’s important to acclimate to altitude, you should acclimate to heat.
“Consider pacing yourself and slowly increase time in heat-related activities,” Cionni said.
• Workout when it’s cool: Avoid the hottest part of the day by working out in the early morning or late evening.
• Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids, including drinks that contain electrolytes to replace the salt that is lost in sweat. When determining how much to drink, listen to your body.
“Let thirst be your guide,” Cionni said. “If you feel thirsty, you should be drinking.”
• Dress for the heat: Choose loose, breathable, lightweight clothing in light colors.
• Shield yourself from the sun: Wear proper clothing and a hat, and stay in the shade when possible. Wear sunscreen. Cionni suggests checking out the Environmental Working Group’s recommendations on sunscreens at ewg.org/sunscreen.
• Moderate activity: If you feel the heat is getting to you, slow down or stop your activity. “If you feel you might be developing any early symptoms of heat-related issues — dizziness, cramps, nausea— that would really be the time to stop your activity,” Cionni said.
Always keep an eye on children and the elderly, who have fewer reserves and may not notice or be able to express the impact of heat.
• Never leave someone in a car: “Even if it’s cool outside, the temperature inside a car on a sunny day can quickly climb to more than 120 degrees,” Cionni said. “Never, ever leave children or pets inside a car.”
Know what to do for heat-related issues
• Heat rash: If clusters of small, red blisters develop on your neck, chest, inner elbows or groin area after sun exposure, you likely have heat rash. Keep the areas dry with baby powder and stay out of the sun.
• Sunburn: Too much sun can result in red, painful and possibly blistered skin.
“We have a number of people in the emergency department with really bad sunburns every year,” Cionni said.
To treat sunburn, stay out of the sun and apply cool, wet cloths and aloe vera. Don’t break blisters.
• Heat cramps: When exercising in extreme heat, you may lose so many electrolytes that muscle pain and spasms result. If that happens, stop your activity, rest in a cool area and hydrate with sports drinks to replenish electrolytes. Get evaluated at the hospital emergency department if the issue lasts longer than an hour, or if you are on a low-sodium diet or have heart problems.
• Heat exhaustion: Signs of heat exhaustion include excessive sweating, nausea, weakness, dizziness, headache and passing out. Treat people immediately. Get them out of the heat, apply cool wet cloths to the skin and have them sip water. Head for the emergency room if symptoms worsen.
“Long-lasting organ damage is directly related to the time the body is at an abnormal temperature,” Cionni said. “If someone is getting worse and not better after an hour, come to the hospital.”
• Heat stroke: Hot, red skin that’s either dry or sweaty, a very fast pulse, headache, dizziness, vomiting and confusion are all signs of heat stroke.
“If someone’s not thinking clearly, they are in trouble,” Cionni said. “Immediately start cooling that person and call 911.”
Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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