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Dehydrated, nauseous and sunburned Floridians flood emergency rooms as temperatures rise – Sun Sentinel

In the emergency room of her Margate hospital, Dr. Paige Swalley orders intravenous fluids for her third patient who has arrived dehydrated and suffering from a heat-related illness.

“As the heat peaks in the afternoon, they start to arrive,” said Swalley, an emergency room doctor at HCA Florida Northwest Hospital.

Last summer, emergency room visits for heat-related illnesses reached an all-time high, and if May is any indication, this year could be worse.

Florida ranked second in the U.S. for 911 calls related to heat exhaustion, heat stroke and dangerous sunburn in the two weeks ending May 24, according to the chart federal government heat-related EMS activation monitoring board. Arkansas, with its scorching heat, took first place. More than half of Florida’s counties received higher than average EMS calls for heat-related emergencies between late April and May.

In May, not only were record temperatures recorded in South Florida on six days of the month, but the region also experienced six days of abnormally high humidity levels, said Brian McNoldy, a senior research scientist at the University from Miami. The suit made the temperature as hot as 112 degrees on the worst days. Last year was the hottest in Florida since 1985.

While the summer months are traditionally warmer, federal health agencies want Americans to know their heat and health risks, plan which outdoor activities to avoid when the danger is greatest, and take measures that reduce their risk of health problems. They want employers of outdoor workers to use the new dashboards to determine which days might be best to tackle larger outdoor jobs.

Check your risk

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched its newest heat and health tracking system that shows a person’s daily risk of suffering from heat-related illnesses based on their zip code.

The tracker combines historical information on temperature, heat-related illnesses and community characteristics with the current thermal situation to assess the resilience of a community. The CDC hopes to encourage local leaders to implement stronger public health protections when EMS calls increase and a community has a high level of outside workers or few nearby hospitals. This year, however, Florida lawmakers banned local government agencies from instituting thermal protection for workers,

For individuals, the CDC tracker can guide a person’s behavior as excessive heat in Florida becomes more common.

“It’s a powerful tool because, for the first time, you can go into the dashboard, enter your zip code, see a seven-day forecast and understand if temperatures are too hot for your health,” said Dr. Aaron. Bernstein, director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “You hear about heat alerts, but none are based on the health risk that heat poses in that community. In Miami, a 90-degree day can affect the community differently than a 90-degree day in Tallahassee. The tracker reflects a risk to the health of this community.

The Heat Health Risk Tracker also suggests precautions based on the daily risk score, which ranges from “No Risk” to “Extreme” heat risk. In Broward County, for example, the tracker shows generally moderate heat levels through June 5. It also states that air quality is moderate and advises: “If you are sensitive to air pollution, consider reducing the time you spend on prolonged or strenuous exercise.”

The year 2023 set a record for heat deaths in the United States, killings in areas that previously dealt with heat, including Florida, according to an AP analysis.

People who are sensitive to heat, such as pregnant women, children with asthma or respiratory problems, heart disease, and the elderly, should start paying attention to orange (moderate) days. Everyone should take precautions on red (major) or magenta (extreme) days.

With the heat health risk projected for an entire week ahead, Bernstein said, people can plan better rather than waiting for a heat advisory that offers less advance notice. This is especially important for people with chronic illnesses, he said. “Some symptoms typically manifest as heat-related illness, but in the case of chronic medical conditions, they may manifest as more intense symptoms of their condition.”

If you find that the health risk from heat is high, take extra precautions, such as taking an extra bottle of water with you outside, taking more breaks and making sure your clothing is suitable for the heat, advises Bernstein.

Who is most at risk as temperatures rise

Swalley said older people are at risk when it’s hot and humid because their sense of thirst isn’t as strong and they can become dehydrated. Additionally, older people and young children cannot regulate their body temperature. When a person comes to the emergency room with a heat-related illness, treatment involves cooling them with a cooling blanket and giving them intravenous fluids to hydrate them, she said.

Symptoms to watch for as the temperature rises include nausea, muscle cramps, dizziness and heart palpitations. Some people may even faint or have seizures.

In Florida, Monroe County, home of the Florida Keys, had the highest rate of emergency responses for heat-related illnesses in the two weeks ending May 24, according to a new dashboard monitoring of heat-related EMS activation. The tracker displays heat-related emergency calls, transports to medical facilities and deaths in real time.

The tracker reveals that over the past two weeks, about 63% of EMS calls nationwide for heat-related illnesses resulted in patients being evacuated to a medical facility.

The heat hazard can be fatal. Heat waves kill more people in the United States than any other weather hazard, including hurricanes, tornadoes and floods combined, according to the CDC. Death certificates for more than 2,300 people who died in the United States last summer mention the effects of excessive heat, the highest number in 45 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the AP analysis, nearly three-quarters of heat deaths last summer occurred in five southern states thought to be accustomed to heat and planned for it, including 84 in Florida.

Dr. Branson Collins, director of the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Florida Atlantic University, suggests checking weather apps to find out when the temperature peaks each day. “You want to minimize the time spent outside during peak hours. Even a few degrees can make a difference.

He also advises anyone engaging in an outdoor activity and feeling their heart racing, palpitations or shortness of breath to stop immediately and go indoors or into the shade to cool down.

Drinking water and fluids with electrolytes can be crucial for some people, he said.

“Some people don’t sweat well. Sweating helps remove heat from your body so you can cool down,” he explains. “If you can’t sweat, your body overheats, which can be dangerous.”

Some good tips to consider

  • Using a fan when indoor heat reaches over 90 degrees can do more harm than good. Fans subjected to extreme heat can give a false sense of comfort and are less effective at cooling the body.
  • Taking a cold shower or taking a cold dip when you’re sweating is not a good idea. This could cause you to feel dizzy and lose consciousness.
  • The coolest time of day in South Florida is between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. If you plan to go for a walk, do it early.
  • People can improve their heat tolerance threshold. You can build up your body’s tolerance by exposing yourself to short periods of heat and humidity and gradually increasing the duration of exposure over time.
  • Caffeine can be dehydrating, so you want to limit your intake when you’re outside on a hot day.
  • Mold and bacteria grow more easily at high temperatures. Change your AC filter more often during the hot summer months.

Health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at [email protected] or on X @cindykgoodman.