OGDEN -- Hundreds of people die every year from heat-related illnesses, so as the temperature starts climbing higher this week, experts are warning the public to take some commonsense precautions.
"The heat can cause illness by itself or make illnesses already present worse," said Deanna Wolfe, Ogden Regional Medical Center trauma service director.
During extremely hot weather, the body's ability to cool itself can be greatly affected. Heat-related illnesses develop when the body heats too rapidly to cool itself properly.
Obesity, heart disease, lung disease, mental illness, poor circulation, some prescription medications, alcohol use and sunburns are some factors that cause people to be even more susceptible, according to the National Weather Service.
Wolfe said the hospital's emergency room treats several people a month during the summer season.
McKay-Dee Hospital, also in Ogden, saw 17 patients during the three summer months in 2012.
From 1999 to 2010, 7,415 deaths in the U.S. were associated with heat illness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In 2011, 206 people died, up significantly from 138 deaths in 2010.
"The spectrum of heat-related illnesses ranges from mild heat exhaustion to heat stroke and affects a variety of individuals," said Dr. Matt Pollard, ER director at McKay-Dee Hospital.
"Heat stroke, which is the most severe form of these illnesses, occurs when an individual exposed to heat stress has an elevated core temperature and experiences central nervous system dysfunction, most commonly manifested as confusion and disorientation."
In the U.S., Pollard said, heat stroke is most common in elderly populations that reside in urban areas and may lack adequate air conditioning.
Heat exhaustion is similar to heat stroke in that people have been exposed to heat stress and have an elevated temperature but no nervous system problems.
Pollard said this problem is common in laborers, particularly those who wear uniforms to retain heat, as well as athletes, younger children and older adults.
Heat cramps are caused by a loss of body fluids and salts during sweating. This can cause painful muscle cramps and spasms in the legs and abdomen, as well as heavy sweating.
Wolfe and Pollard said other symptoms of heat illnesses include nausea, vomiting, headache, flushed skin, cold and clammy skin, light-headedness, agitation, elevated temperature, convulsions and coma in severe situations.
"Being overheated can cloud your judgment," Wolfe said. "If you feel you have heat exhaustion, which could mean confusion, cramping, nausea or vomiting, get someone to help with the cooling off process."
Wolfe said people lose a lot of heat through the head, feet, underarms and groin. Getting these areas wet and letting them air dry is probably the most-effective way of cooling down someone with significant symptoms.
In addition, Pollard said to remove the victim's constrictive clothing to the extent possible, get out of the sun and rehydrate by drinking cool water.
Because some people suffering from heat illness may not recognize the severity of their symptoms, Pollard said those around them might need to help them stop and cool down.
If the person is showing signs of heat stroke where they are delirious, get them to the emergency room immediately.
"Heat exhaustion is usually self-
limited when appropriate interventions are made and may last a few hours, whereas heat-stroke victims are at risk for death if left untreated," Wolfe said.
"In addition to elevated temperatures, these patients are usually severely dehydrated and may experience kidney failure."
The best thing to do, however, is to prevent heat illnesses in the first place, said Wolfe and Pollard.
This can be achieved by staying hydrated throughout the day by drinking water and avoiding alcohol, wearing loose-fitting clothing in breathable fabrics such as linen or cotton, and limiting your activity when it's scorching hot.
Save yard work and exercise for the cooler part of the day. Stay inside as much as possible, and keep the shades and curtains drawn during the hot hours.
Use a fan or air conditioning, and when it cools down at night, open your windows for cross-ventilation.
How to keep cool with no air conditioning
* Hot air out, cool air in
The most basic thing you can do to keep your house cooler without air conditioning is to keep as much sunlight out as possible and let cooler air in at night. During the day, keep windows, drapes, blinds or shades closed, especially on the southern and western sides of your home. If you have a porch, you can put up large plastic or bamboo shades to cut down on sunlight.
Use white or light-colored window dressings to reflect light. You can also apply reflective slicks to windows to further cut down on light. At night, leave cabinets open as well, as they will store heat.
* Be a fan of the fan
Moving air is cooler air. At night, place fans in windows to bring more cool air in. Ceiling fans can also make a big difference. In terms of cooling, even a 1 mph breeze will make you feel 3 to 4 degrees cooler. In terms of energy savings, if you run a ceiling fan full-blast for 12 hours, you will only spend about $10 a month more in electricity. Ceiling fans have two settings, one to pull air up (for winter use), and the other to push air down. Make sure your ceiling fan is blowing down.
Source: American Red Cross