Tucson is in for the first really high temps of the year this week. It may be a dry heat, as we’re fond of saying, but it’s powerful. Northwest Fire/Rescue reminds residents that high temperatures can pose health hazards, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
When you’re hot, sweating helps cool your body through roughly the same evaporative cooling principle many of us use in our homes. However, the body can afford to lose only so much water. A lack of fluid volume makes your blood pressure drop, and can lead to a shortage of oxygen above the neck; dizziness, weakness and fainting may follow.
With the loss of water comes also the loss of vital body salts. Sodium, potassium and chloride are depleted as the body sweats, causing imbalance in body chemicals. This combination of water and salt loss can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion and eventually life-threatening heat stroke.
Heat cramps, painful spasms usually in leg and abdomen muscles, are an early sign of salt loss. Massaging the muscle and sipping on a glass of water mixed with a teaspoon of salt will relieve the symptoms.
Heat exhaustion is a more serious stage of dehydration and salt loss. Symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, weakness, vomiting and pale, clammy skin. Get the victim out of the sun, have him lie down, loosen his clothing, and apply cool, wet cloths, if available. Have the victim sip salt water every 15 minutes. If vomiting occurs, however, do not give fluids; get immediate medical attention.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency. Symptoms include a temperature frequently of 105 degrees or higher, hot, red, dry skin, rapid pulse and possible unconsciousness. Victims may display bizarre behavior ranging from irritability to combativeness. Major body systems collapse in response to severe salt and water loss and dangerously high internal temperatures.
Summon medical help or get the victim to a hospital immediately if heat stroke is suspected. Move the person into a cooler environment and reduce body temperature, using ice water, air conditioning and fans. Do not give fluids; the victim may choke on it.
Obviously, it’s best to avoid these heat-related medical conditions. Northwest Fire/Rescue District offers these tips for dealing with the hot weather:
• Reduce activity during the heat. Eliminate or modify strenuous activity, or reschedule it to the coolest part of the day
• When outdoors, protect your skin from direct exposure to the sun with lightweight and light-colored clothing. Wear a wide brimmed hat, long sleeve shirt, long-legged pants and durable boots that provide insulation from the hot desert ground.
• Do not smoke or drink alcoholic beverages: both hasten dehydration
• Drink plenty of fluids at regular intervals, even before you feel thirsty. When you’re dehydrated, your brain’s ability to recognize the need for water may become impaired.
• Never head out to the desert on impulse. Have plenty of water and let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back
For additional safety information, contact the Northwest Fire/Rescue District Prevention office at 887-1010.