Deadly dehydration and heat injuries: facts you need to know

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Jun 2, 2017, 10:00 AM | Updated: Jun 5, 2017, 12:00 am

Phoenix Rescue Mission....

Phoenix Rescue Mission.

When the temperature passes 100 degrees and keeps climbing, most residents in the Valley stay indoors in an air-conditioned environment. If they must make a brief dash to an air-conditioned car, the heat coming up from the asphalt gives an extra layer of heat.

There are some in the community who cannot easily escape the heat or even easily get a drink of water. Homeless men, women and children face a deadly situation. The elderly are particularly susceptible to the heat due to chronic health problems and medications. Phoenix Rescue Mission recently launched its 5th annual Code Red Summer Heat Relief campaign to help prevent heat-related deaths and illnesses in the community. The campaign is centered around its Hope Coach street outreach program, which delivers water and other heat relief items directly to these groups of people who are living on the streets. The Mission also provides emergency services and shelter during the summer heat.

In Arizona, an average of 118 people die each year from excessive heat, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes symptoms can range from headaches, to muscle cramps and nausea, to seizures and even death. But according to Craig Heller, PhD, professor of biology at Stanford University, “When you go to sleep, your set point for body temperature — the temperature your brain is trying to achieve — goes down, the mild drop in body temperature induces sleep.”

When extreme heat hits, it’s hard to reduce the body temperature enough to get a good night sleep. The lack of sleep alone can cause additional risk factors such as impaired immune system, impaired cognitive ability and even hallucinations in some cases.

Damage can be permanent

Research on heat stroke is limited, but one study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicates there could be long-term implications. The researchers studied heat stroke victims of a sustained heat wave that struck Chicago in 1995, which killed more than 600 people. They found more than a fourth of patients died within a year and most had permanent loss of independent function.

On a moderate level, dehydration symptoms can result in symptoms such as bad breath, muscle cramps and even food cravings for sweets. While these symptoms might seem innocent enough, the long term effects of chronic dehydration can lead to digestive disorders, high cholesterol, kidney stones and even cause depression.

Dehydration danger

Many heat-related problems start with dehydration. In hot, dry weather, your body can rapidly lose moisture as it tries to stay cool. If the liquid is not replaced, a host of signs can appear, including thirst; dizziness; rapid heartbeat; rapid breathing; sunken eyes; fainting; muscle cramps; fainting; confusion and more. WebMD.com reports severe dehydration is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

Heat stress symptoms

Heat-related illnesses range from heat stress to heat exhaustion to heat stroke. They can develop quickly or over a prolonged period, according to the Mayo Clinic. Those exercising or working are at higher risk. Heat illness signs and symptoms include:

  • Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat
  • Heavy sweating
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure upon standing
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Heat stroke 

This is the most serious form of heat injury. Your body temperature rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death.

What to do

The key treatments for heat injuries include getting the person into shade or indoors, removing excess clothing and cooling the person with any means available: a cool shower; spraying with a garden hose; sponging with cool water; fanning while misting with cool water; placing ice packs or cold, wet towels on the person’s head; neck; armpits; and groin.

Donate to Code Red

Prevention is the best option for heat injuries. Unfortunately, that option is more difficult for the homeless, for the elderly and for children. One way to help is through the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Code Red campaign. Check the mission’s website to find out ways you can contribute.



About Phoenix Rescue Mission: Summer begins early in Arizona. As the rest of the country enjoys Spring time, Arizona is seeing early signs of Summer. With most days coming close to triple digit weather, the Phoenix Rescue Mission is entering CODE: RED. Arizona summer days are deadly. Code: Red is the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Summer Heat Relief initiative to supply the homeless with resources to survive these dangerous days on the streets of the Valley of the Sun. In Arizona, an average of 118 people die every year from excessive heat. 95% of those deaths occur between May and September. Without someplace to escape from the blazing Phoenix summer heat, our homeless neighbors are at risk of serious illness — even death.

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Deadly dehydration and heat injuries: facts you need to know