Harshman: Heat-related illnesses, deaths are preventable

Posted 5/4/21

Can you feel it? The temperature is rising. Summer is just around the corner, and soon we will find ourselves mopping the sweat off our brows while silently questioning our life choices.

Why in …

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Harshman: Heat-related illnesses, deaths are preventable


Can you feel it? The temperature is rising. Summer is just around the corner, and soon we will find ourselves mopping the sweat off our brows while silently questioning our life choices.

Why in the name of all that is just and good have we chosen to live in a climate that mimics the surface of the sun? Don’t get me wrong, there are very few things in the world quite as spectacular as a summer morning here Apache Junction. The problem is by 10:00 a.m. our beautiful Sonoran Desert transforms into a raging inferno. Temperatures can swing from a comfortable 85 degrees to a blistering 110 degrees within just a few hours. These extreme temperatures aren’t just uncomfortable- they can be downright dangerous, and the risk of falling victim to heat related illness is a real concern.

Heat exhaustion is one type of heat-related illness which is accompanied by headaches, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, and weakness. Heat exhaustion, left untreated, can lead to heat stroke, which can be fatal. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s core temperature reaches 105 degrees or higher. The extreme temperature can lead to complications in the central nervous system. Heat stroke can come on quickly, and occurs because the body is no longer able to regulate temperature.

Symptoms of heat stroke include fainting, headache (throbbing felt in the temples), nausea, vomiting, cessation of sweating, dizziness, and redness of skin around the face and neck (may appear as a rash). Often heatstroke patients will experience increased or rapid heartbeat, respiratory complications, confusion, slurred speech, delirium and/or seizures.

If you or someone you know experiences a heat-related emergency, call 911 immediately. While waiting for medics to arrive you should try to get the patient out of the sun or remove them from the source of the heat (hot car or house). You can gently spray the patient down with cool water or apply a wet cloth or ice pack to the patient’s armpits and/or groin area. If the patient is able to drink, give them cool water. Obviously, if the patient is unconscious or is vomiting, hold off on trying to get them to drink.

Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable. Here are some tips to avoid a trip to the emergency room this summer:

  • Drink water. Your body needs to stay hydrated in order to produce sweat. Sweat helps regulate your temperature. Avoid alcohol.
  • Avoid sunburns. Sunburns make it more difficult for your body to expel heat. Wear sunscreen, carry an umbrella or wear a hat. Protect yourself from the sun.
  • Spend the hot part of the day somewhere cool. If you don’t have an efficient air conditioning system, find someone that does. The library, malls, or grocery stores are nice cool places hang out during the summer.
  • Be careful with medications. The heat can create complications with certain prescription drugs. Know the side-effects of your medications. Consult your physician or pharmacist if you’re unsure.
    • Avoid hot cars. Temperatures can reach in excess of 145 degrees in a parked car here in the spring, summer and fall. Never leave a child in parked car. Not even for a minute.
  • If you have the option, avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day. Exercise in the morning or early evening.
  • If you must work in hot weather take extra precautions. Take regular and frequent breaks from the heat and drink plenty of water.
  • If you are new to the area, allow your body to acclimate to the heat before jumping into a regular exercise routine. Be aware of the temperature swings. It’s not uncommon for the temperature to go from 78 degrees at 7 a.m. to 105 degrees at noon.

This can’t be over emphasized: Never leave your pets or your kids in a parked car. The interior temperature of your car can reach 145 degrees within just a few minutes. Don’t do it, not even for a minute. It’s way too easy to get distracted and forget. By the time you do remember, it may be too late and the results could be tragic.

Finally, over the past few summers here in Apache Junction, we have had a few deaths from heat-related illness. These deaths were preventable. As good citizens, it’s up to us to watch out for the most vulnerable among us. Often people don’t want to burden others with their problems, so we may not know that our neighbors are without a functional air conditioner or cooler. Even though your neighbor may not ask for help, he or she probably won’t turn it down if help is offered.

If you have an elderly neighbor, please check on them. Ask about their living situation. Find out if they have family in the area and try to get emergency contact information. If you have permission or you are invited, enter their residence so you can assess the living conditions inside. Watch for any changes in your neighbor’s routine. For example, if you notice that your neighbor usually opens the blinds first thing in the morning and then suddenly does not, there may be a problem. If your neighbor normally takes a morning walk but skips a day, check in on them. Be vigilant. Simply taking the time to look in on the people around us could save someone’s life.

Editor’s note: Cpl. Marshall Harshman is Apache Junction Police Department’s community and media liaison officer.