July 16, 2019

Soaring temperatures increase risk of heat-related illness

With Madison-area temperatures expected to soar through the 90s on their way to close to 100 degrees this week, UW Health emergency medicine physicians want you to think about your health when you're enjoying the summer sun.

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.

Dr. Allan Mottram said the symptoms of heat exhaustion - a depletion of the body's water and/or salt resources - 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."

But you can take steps to prevent heat-related illness. Here's what Dr. Mottram recommends:

  • Keep an eye on the reported heat index, which can be found on a number of online weather sites and is often broadcast on the local news. 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.

  • 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. "If you're doing something like mowing the lawn, plan to do those things in the morning or evening, not in the middle of the day," Dr. Mottram said.

Dr. Brian Patterson cautions that the elderly and very young are most vulnerable to extreme heat, so their 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.