Several heat-related deaths occurred on Tucson’s trails in 2016, and 2017 already has set records for some of the hottest days in decades. To stay safe, it’s vital to understand the signs and progression of heat illness, and be prepared to prevent it.
Bottom line: heat can kill, and quickly. Our bodies need time to acclimatize to warmer weather, which means that out-of-state visitors are at greater risk of being physiologically unprepared to handle the heat. Each of us has a unique threshold of heat exposure we can safely endure.
With more frequent heat exposure, our metabolic, biochemical, and cardiovascular systems adapt, cooling us more efficiently. Blood vessels widen to bring blood near the skin to cool quickly, and we sweat more readily. Sweat cools the body as it evaporates off your skin, but can leave you depleted of fluid and necessary electrolytes.
Heat exhaustion can occur when the body is exposed to high temperatures, and can indicate dehydration or salt depletion. Signs of heat exhaustion include excessive sweating, fatigue, dizziness, fainting, cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you notice yourself or companions developing signs of heat exhaustion, immediately stop in the shade, rest, and drink water and electrolytes.
If untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke in a matter of minutes. A victim of heat stroke will be unable to adapt to high temperatures. Their skin will be hot to touch, and they will cease sweating as their systems break down. High internal temperatures can cause brain damage, coma, and death. If someone develops heat stroke, their body must be cooled as quickly as possible; wet their clothes with any fluid available, submerge them to the chin in cool water if possible, and provide shade.
Above all, call for help immediately if you think someone needs assistance. The Southern Arizona Rescue Association (SARA) is Pima County’s non-profit, all-volunteer search and rescue organization assisting the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, on-call 24/7. SARA is proud to provide expert search and rescue services in Southern Arizona at NO cost.
Here’s how to stay safe when hiking – or just living – in Tucson’s summertime temps:
- Appropriate attire: light-colored clothes reflect sunlight, diverting heat. A wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses help protect the skin.
- Drink it down: a good mixture of water and electrolyte fluids. If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
- Know your limits: don’t hike farther than you can handle. Stop and rest frequently in the shade to allow your body to cool.
- Know the signs: Call 911 immediately if you or a companion experience cramps, dizziness, or fatigue that does not improve with rest and rehydration.