This week we are seeing high-to-record heat across the state of Utah with signs pointing to a hot summer.  People of all ages – and especially older adults – risk dehydration, over-exposure to the sun, and other heat-related issues.

In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), even though all heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable, more than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year. Heat-related deaths are considered one of the deadliest weather-related health outcomes in the United States.

Dr. Kelli Graziano, Medical Director for OptumCare Utah, joined ABC4 Utah to discuss heat-related illnesses, challenges of staying safe in warmer temperatures, and provide helpful tips for our hot summer months.

Heat-related illnesses and what are some of the warning signs to know:

Elevated body temperature from heat-related illness is different from fever caused by infection or other illness. People suffer from heat-related illnesses when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded. Typically, the body cools itself by sweating, but under some conditions, this is not enough and the body’s temperature can increase rapidly.

Heat-related illnesses range from heatstroke and heat exhaustion to heat cramps, heat rashes, and sunburn. Below are some common warning signs of each heat-related illness.

  • Heatstroke – Heatstroke is considered a life-threatening medical emergency.
    • Some warning signs include:
      • High body temperature (103 degrees F or higher)
      • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
      • Fast, strong pulse
      • Headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion
      • Losing consciousness or passing out
  • Heat exhaustion
    • Some warning signs include:
      • Heavy sweating
      • Cold, clammy, and pale skin
      • Fast, weak pulse
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Muscle cramps
      • Tired or weakness
      • Dizziness
      • Headache
      • Passing out or fainting
  • Heat cramps
    • Some warning signs include:
      • Heavy sweating during intense exercise
      • Muscle pains or spasms
  • Sunburn
    • Some warning signs include:
      • Painful, red, and warm skin
      • Blisters on skin
  • Heat rash
    • Some warning signs include:
      • Red clusters of small blisters that look like pimples on the skin – usually in neck, chest, groin, or elbow creases.

Some conditions may limit the body’s ability to self-regulate temperature, including old age, youth (age 0-4), obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, certain prescription drugs, and alcohol use. The populations at greater risk for heat-related illness include infants and children up to four years of age, people 65 or older, people who are overweight or ill, and people on certain types of medications. For more information on how to protect certain ages and groups, you can check here.

There are three general tips from the CDC to remember when dealing with hot temperatures. They are: stay cool, stay hydrated, and stay informed.

  • Stay cool
    • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
    • Stay in cool or air-conditioned areas as much as possible.
      • Keep in mind: Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, they will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off. Use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.
    • Schedule outdoor activities carefully and try to limit outdoor activity to when it’s coolest in the morning and evening.
    • Pace yourself and cut down on exercising in the heat, especially if you are not accustomed to it.
    • Wear sunscreen and apply SPF of 15 or higher, with broad-spectrum or “UVA/UVB” protection.
    • Do NOT leave children or pets in cars as they can heat extremely quickly and they are particularly vulnerable to getting a heat stroke and dying.
  • Stay hydrated
    • Drink plenty of fluids, regardless of how active you are, do not wait until you are thirsty to drink.
    • Replace salt and minerals lost by your body sweating by drinking fruit juice or sports beverages.
    • Keep pets hydrated by providing plenty of freshwater for your pet and keeping them in the shade as much as possible.
    • Warning: If your doctor limits the amount you drink or has you on water pills, ask them how much you should drink when the weather is hot. In addition, avoid sugary or alcoholic drinks that can cause you to lose more body fluid and avoid very cold drinks that can cause stomach cramps. Some fruit juices or sports drinks can be good options to replace salts and minerals lost during sweating, but talk to your doctor if you are on a low-salt diet, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or chronic conditions before taking salt tablets or drinking these drinks.
  • Stay informed
    • Check your local news for extreme heat alerts and safety tips on how to stay safe in your region
    • Know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and how to treat them
    • Monitor those at high risk, including children, older people, people who are overweight or take certain medications

If you encounter someone suffering from a heat-related illness – The course of action will vary depending on which heat-related illness the person is suffering from, but generally, you’ll want to remove the victim from the heat getting them into a cool, shady, or air-conditioned environment that will help to bring the body temperature down and use all resources to try to cool their body temperature. This may include giving them a cool, non-alcoholic beverage to drink or sponging/spraying them with cool water, and monitoring their body temperature.

Heatstroke is considered a life-threatening heat-related illness, so first and foremost, call for immediate emergency care and then attempt to cool the person off.

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