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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane is about to get hot. How to stay safe with the ‘abrupt change’ in temperature

June 23, 2021 Updated Wed., June 23, 2021 at 8:57 p.m.

As temperatures climbed into the 90s, people and pets find a shady spot to beat the heat during a visit to Corbin Park in Spokane last summer. Parks officials are now looking at how to spend their allotment of COVID-19 relief money from the city, guided by the results of a user survey last year.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
As temperatures climbed into the 90s, people and pets find a shady spot to beat the heat during a visit to Corbin Park in Spokane last summer. Parks officials are now looking at how to spend their allotment of COVID-19 relief money from the city, guided by the results of a user survey last year. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

It’s still June, and we aren’t acclimated to the record high temperatures headed to the Inland Northwest in the coming days.

And while summertime usually brings lots of outdoor gatherings, public health experts and doctors advise people to think twice and prepare for how the extreme heat could impact them.

“It is going to be so hot that I think we all need to be really careful and rethink our outdoor activities, given that this is such an abrupt change for us,” said Amy Anderson, a family physician at MultiCare Rockwood clinics.

Preventing heat-related illness is the best approach to the upcoming heat wave, Anderson said.

While young children and adults 65 and older are at higher risk for heat-related illnesses, like exhaustion or stroke, everyone is at risk for overheating.

Here are a few ways to prevent heat illness:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible. If you plan to exercise or be outdoors, try to do so in the early morning or later at night when it will not be as hot. Stay in the shade if possible. If you have air conditioning, use it. If you don’t, use fans and open windows, while keeping blinds down to block out sunlight. When the temperature gets above 95 degrees, do not use fans as it will circulate hot air. Consider visiting a friend with air conditioning or being in an air-conditioned space at least for a part of the day to regulate body temperature.
  • Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. When it gets hot, you need to drink more fluid than normal. A person who is exercising should drink 16 to 32 ounces of water each hour, but even those who are not should increase their water intake in the midst of extreme heat. Replacing electrolytes is important too, especially when you sweat. Sports drinks, powders or tablets that contain electrolytes can help you stay hydrated when we sweat. On the flip side, it’s important to not overdo sugar, caffeine and alcohol when it is warm, as these substances can dehydrate you.
  • Do not leave children or pets in cars. Car temperatures can increase rapidly, reaching up to 120 degrees in just 10 minutes, when left in the sun. Even if the windows are left open, health officials do not advise leaving children or animals in cars.
  • Wear light colored and lightweight cotton clothing. If you are going to be outdoors, wear sunscreen and protect yourself from the sun. Sunburned skin makes it more difficult for the body to naturally cool.
  • Check on your neighbors and family. If more vulnerable family members, like children or adults, can be in spaces with air conditioning, help them get there. Health officials advise checking in on those who might be at higher risk for heat-related illness.

Heat illness exists on a spectrum from a mild heat rash to a life-threatening heat stroke, and each condition has its own symptoms and signs.

Heat stroke, the most serious of heat-related illnesses, requires emergency medical attention, Anderson said. The symptoms of heat stroke look a bit different than other heat-related illnesses, and someone experiencing these symptoms should be taken to the emergency room.

Symptoms of heat stroke:

  • Confusion or altered mental state. This is the hallmark trait that differentiates heat stroke from other types of heat-related illnesses.
  • No sweat. A person having a heat stroke often times is so dehydrated they lose their ability to sweat to cool their body, allowing heat to build up to potentially lethal levels.
  • High body temperature of 103 degrees or more.

While heat stroke is the most extreme heat-related illness, heat exhaustion and heat cramps are also common when someone is overheating.

Heat exhaustion is less severe than a stroke and often presents with headaches and nausea. A person with heat exhaustion is likely very thirsty but also could be vomiting and unable to keep down much liquid. Cooling the body down with cold compresses, or a cold bath or shower, is vital to treat a person with heat exhaustion. A person with heat exhaustion needs to attempt to stay as hydrated as possible, with little sips of water, Anderson said. Heat exhaustion can be treated with these remedies, but if symptoms get worse or are prolonged beyond an hour, seek medical attention.

Cramping is also common, especially in people exercising in extreme heat. Anderson said a person experiencing heat cramps should get out of the heat, rest, drink fluids and replace electrolytes .

For more heat-related health tips, read the CDC’s guide on heat-related illness or the Spokane Regional Health District’s guide.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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