Heat is as much a part of summer in Bullhead City, Arizona and the Colorado River Valley as snow and sub zero temperatures are in Duluth. Both heat and cold pose serious risks. Both, however, can be mediated with applied knowledge and a bit of common sense.
The current heat wave gripping the southwest is an ideal opportunity to discuss heat stroke and dehydration. It is also an ideal time to discuss prevention and the recognition of symptoms.
The relatively low humidity of the desert southwest can speed up the dehydration process. Under normal conditions, we all lose body water daily.
If, however, an individual is overexposed to the sun, to heat exceeding body temperature, and does not drink enough water, the body looses excessive amounts of water. Also lost are vital body salts, such as sodium and potassium.
Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after exposure to high temperatures. It is often accompanied by dehydration.
There are two types of heat exhaustion to be aware of. Water depletion signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and in extreme cases, loss of consciousness. Signs of salt depletion include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.
Heat exhaustion is not as serious or as dangerous as heat stroke. But neither one should be taken lightly. Without proper intervention, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs. Death becomes a very real possibility.
Heat exhaustion is strongly related to the heat index, which is a measurement of how hot you feel when the effects of relative humidity and air temperature are combined. A relative humidity of 60% or more hampers sweat evaporation, which hinders your body’s ability to cool itself.
The risk of heat-related illness dramatically increases when the heat index climbs to 90 degrees or more. So, here in the deserts of western Arizona, especially during heat waves such as is being experienced at this time, it is important to pay attention too the heat index.
It is even more important to be aware of symptoms. These include mental confusion, dizziness, fatigue, cramping of muscles, rapid heartbeat, profuse sweating, severe headache, and pale skin. Be particularly aware of dark urine as this is also a sign of extreme dehydration.
Knowing how to deal with symptoms is equally as important. It is essential to immediately get the affected person out of the heat, preferably indoors in an an air-conditioned or cooled room. A shaded place is better than being in the sun.
Drink plenty of fluids. Water is important but sports drinks that replace lost salts, minerals and electrolytes is best. Always avoid caffeine and alcohol. If possible remove tight or unnecessary clothing, soak remaining clothes with water or take a cool shower. Make use of fans and iced towels if possible. If these measures fail to provide relief within 15 minutes, immediately seek emergency medical help.
Don’t fear the heat anymore than you fear the cold in the north country. Common sense, and applied knowledge is key. For more information about beating he heat, contact the Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America