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Staying safe in the heat

While summer is the perfect time to get outdoors for barbecues, camping, sports and other activities, the heat that comes along with it can pose a serious danger.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 800 Americans die every year from heat-related causes.

“The July and August timeframe for northern Idaho is probably when we have the most heat-related illnesses,” said Dr. Nicholas Garrett, an emergency medicine physician in Gritman Medical Center’s Emergency Department.

Heat-related illness, also called hyperthermia, is a condition resulting from exposure to extreme heat where the body becomes unable to properly cool, resulting in a rapid rise in body temperature. In severe cases, damage to the brain and other vital organs or death can occur. Prompt treatment is critical to reducing illness and preventing death. Gritman’s emergency services are always open and ready to handle a wide range of medical and trauma cases, including heat-related illnesses. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911.

Gritman Online Clinic’s Symptom Checker tool can help you identify sicknesses and ailments and to determine the best course of action. Take a minute to try out Symptom Checker at gritman.org/online-clinic/ and see how it can help you and your family.

People at greatest risk for heat-related illness include infants and young children; people 65 years of age and older; and people who are overweight or have existing medical conditions.

“Children, especially those under the age of 5, do not have as much ability as adults do to get rid of excess heat,” Dr. Garrett said. “It can be a quick progression to having seizures, coma, neurologic brain death. It can happen in a matter of minutes.”

Dr. Garrett also warned about the dangers of leaving children unattended in a car for even a handful of minutes.

“There have been numerous studies that show if the temperature is only 80 degrees outside it only takes 15 to 30 minutes to see that temperature rise well above 100 degrees in a car,” he said. “It does not take but just a few minutes for a child to get in trouble.”

Young and healthy people can also quickly succumb to heat. Exercising during hot weather, working outdoors and the wrong types of clothing increase risk. Drinking alcohol also increases risk of dehydration.

Of the heat-related illnesses, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the most serious.

Warning signs of heatstroke vary but may include the following:

  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
  • Red, hot and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

The warning signs of heat exhaustion include the following:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

Tips to beat the heat:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Check on friends and neighbors at high risk
  • Find places where you can cool off
  • Never leave children or pets in a closed, parked vehicle
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
  • Use sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher
  • Limit time outdoors
  • Take breaks often

Learn more about heat-related illnesses in our Online Clinic.