HealthONE - July 16, 2021
by Brandi Williams, RN, MSN TCRN

Summertime in Colorado is all about celebrating and enjoying the great outdoors, and with 300+ days of sunshine, it's easy to have the perfect day. Colorado may not compare to some of the hottest and most humid places in the United States but the unique geography and climate of the Rocky Mountain region puts us at higher risk for heatstroke and heat-related illnesses than you think.

Higher altitudes also increase the risk of dehydration. At higher elevations (especially above 5,000 feet) your body works harder, your respiration rate goes up, and your body loses water faster than it would at sea level. With less atmosphere for the sun's rays to go through, it is easier to get sunburn. Sunburned skin is less capable of helping the rest of your body cool down, adding to the risk of heatstroke.

Beat the Heat

The human body can normally regulate its temperature through sweating until we expose it to more heat than it can handle. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can escalate rapidly, leading to delirium, organ damage, and even death. People who work in the heat, infants and young children, individuals 65 and older, and people who are overweight are most at risk of developing heat exhaustion or heat stroke. However, even young and healthy people can be affected if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather.

Heat exhaustion is when the body loses excess water and salt, usually because of sweating. Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Pale, ashen, or moist skin
  • Fatigue, weakness, or exhaustion
  • Headache, dizziness, or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid pulse

Heat exhaustion can develop into heatstroke. If you or someone else are experiencing the symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • Move into an air-conditioned area or the shade.  
  • Provide water or other cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
  • Apply cool wet towels to the body or take a cool shower.

Heatstroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate action. Signs of heatstroke include:

  • Body temperature above 103 degrees
  • Skin that is flushed, dry, and hot to the touch; sweating has usually stopped
  • Rapid and shallow breathing
  • Headache, dizziness, confusion, or other signs of altered mental status
  • Irrational behavior
  • Convulsions or unresponsiveness

If you see someone experiencing these symptoms:

  • Call 911
  • Move them into a cool space
  • Remove unnecessary clothing
  • Immediately cool the victim, preferably by immersing up to the neck in cold water or shower (with the help of a second rescuer)
  • Keep cooling until the body temperature drops to 101 degrees
  • Monitor the victim's breathing and be ready to give CPR if needed
  • Do NOT force the victim to drink liquids or allow them to take pain relievers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent heat-related illnesses:

  • Wear weather-appropriate clothing
  • Staying hydrated 
  • Avoid alcohol and very sugary drinks. These can cause the body to lose fluid.
  • Rest and cool down
  • Schedule outdoor activities during morning and evening hours
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Do not leave children or pets in parked cars
  • Replace salt and minerals with a sports drink. Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body that need to be replaced.

Summertime activity, whether on the playing field or the construction site, must be balanced with actions that help the body cool itself to prevent heat-related illness. Keeping all this in mind, along with the simple planning and consideration, will ensure you’re prepared for a fun filled Colorado summer.

tags: safety , summer , tmca , wellness