As the Valley comes out of cooler-than-usual springtime temperatures, the summer heat is coming on with a vengeance. The National Weather Service already issued an excessive heat warning for this season.

Maricopa County Department of Public Health officials also confirmed last week that an older adult is the county’s first death due to heat-related illness this year. The man, who was without housing and dehydrated, was found in a vehicle.

“This is a sad reminder about how seriously we need to take our heat here in the desert,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for Disease Control at Maricopa County Department of Public Health. “Even when temperatures aren’t as high as we see in late summer, temperatures in the 80s and 90s can still lead to dehydration and be very dangerous. This is especially true for our most vulnerable populations, such as seniors and people without shelter.”

While many heat-associated deaths occur outside, 40 percent occur indoors. The majority of those either don’t have their air conditioning turned on or it doesn’t function. Many people struggle with paying the AC bills in the summer. Utility companies are sensitive to this fact and have programs to assist individuals. In addition, government and community-based organizations have support services and cooling centers people can visit to cool down. Energy assistance programs, locations for water, and refuge stations can be found at heataz.com and caloraz.com.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people die in the U.S. from heat than all other natural disasters combined. Last year, 182 heat-associated deaths occurred in Maricopa County due to exposure to environmental heat. This is the highest number of heat-associated deaths on record for Maricopa County.

Be safe

People suffer heat-associated illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. Common-sense practices will keep you safe and healthy during the summer, including:

*Drink water before you get thirsty to prevent dehydration.

*Don’t rely on fans as your primary source of cooling.

*Come indoors frequently to an air-conditioned location to cool your core body temperature.

*Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and lightweight clothes.

*Never leave kids, pets and others who may rely on you inside of a parked car.

*Check on friends and neighbors, especially the elderly, to ensure sufficient cooling and supplies

Seek medical care immediately if you have, or someone you know has, symptoms of heat-associated illness like muscle cramps, headaches, vomiting, confusion, no longer sweating and rapid heart rate

Heat illness

The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.

Although anyone can potentially be at risk during the summer heat season, children, elderly and animals are extremely susceptible to heat illnesses.

Other high risk persons include:

*The homeless population.

*People who are ill and/or on certain medications.

*Those who are overweight.

*Those who work outdoors (adults and young adults).

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106 F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:

*An extremely high body temperature (Above 103 F).

*Confusion.

*Dizziness.

*Nausea.

*Rapid, strong pulse.

*Red, hot and dry skin (No sweating).

*Throbbing headache.

*Unconsciousness.

Any of these signs may signal a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while beginning to cool the victim. Do the following:

*Get the victim to a shady area.

*Cool the victim rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.

*Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102 F.

*If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.

*Do not give the victim alcohol to drink.

*Get medical assistance as soon as possible.

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, those with high blood pressure and those working or exercising in a hot environment.

Warning signs of heat exhaustion vary but may include the following:

*Heavy sweating.

*Paleness.

*Muscle cramps.

*Tiredness.

*Weakness.

*Dizziness.

*Headache.

*Nausea or vomiting.

*Fainting.

The skin may be cool and moist. The pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. Seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.

What to do for heat exhaustion:

*Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages.

*Rest.

*Take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath.

*Seek an air-conditioned environment.

*Wear lightweight clothing.

Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms – usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs – that may occur in association with strenuous activity.

People who sweat a lot during strenuous activity are prone to heat cramps. This sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture. The low salt level in the muscles causes painful cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. Someone with heart problems or on a low-sodium diet should seek medical attention for heat cramps.

If medical attention is not necessary, take the following steps:

*Stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool place.

*Drink clear juice or a sports beverage.

*Do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

*Seek medical attention for heat cramps if they do not subside in 1 hour.

Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. It can occur at any age but is most common in young children. Heat rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. It is more likely to occur on the neck and upper chest, in the groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases.

The best treatment for heat rash is to provide a cooler, less humid environment. Keep the affected area dry. Dusting powder may be used to increase comfort.