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Madison, Wis. — With state temperatures expected to soar beyond 90 degrees Fahrenheit this week, UW Health emergency medicine physicians want you to think about your health.
The combination of high temperatures and high humidity increase susceptibility to sunburn and dehydration, the ramifications of which are relatively less severe, but also to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can be at the very least unpleasant and potentially life threatening.
As many people may turn to outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, people should be keenly aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion, which is a depletion of the body's water and salt resources, according to Dr. Brian Patterson, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and UW Health emergency room physician.
The symptoms of heat exhaustion include feeling overheated or lightheaded, fatigue and nausea.
“With heat stroke, which is the more severe form, people are dehydrated to the point they're not sweating, and their temperatures are elevated to a dangerous point,” he said. “They can become confused and even unconscious."
Here are some steps to avoid heat-related illness:
Keep an eye on the reported heat index, if it's 90 or more, conditions are ripe for heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Avoid prolonged exposure to the heat and sun. If you're outside, seek out shady areas for protection and identify public spaces with air-conditioning as places of refuge from the heat, with appropriate social distancing and within local regulations.
Stay hydrated. Drink enough water, both before you go outside and when you're exposed to heat. It is important to replace both water and salt lost during sweating.
Limit your strenuous activities and be smart about those you can't avoid. For example, mowing the lawn in the cooler times of day like morning or evening.
The elderly and very young are most vulnerable to extreme heat, so caretakers, relatives and friends must be particularly wary of symptoms related to heat illness:
Confusion is one of the most concerning signs of heat illness and is a reason to seek medical attention.
In major heat waves, many deaths occur among elderly patients who live alone. Make sure to check on relatives and neighbors who you think may have difficulty finding a cool spot or staying well hydrated.
Never leave children, adults or pets in parked cars, even for short periods of time.