Excessive heat keeping Phoenix emergency rooms busy

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PHOENIX – Emergency rooms throughout the Phoenix Metro are full of patients suffering from heat-related illnesses, and with excessive heat warnings and advisories in effect for the next couple of days, that will likely continue to be the case.

Monday's high in Phoenix was 115 degrees. According to 3TV meteorologist April Warnecke, the mercury never reached that level last summer.

"It's been two years since we've been that hot here in the Valley," she said. "It's going to be nearly that warm again today."

Dr. Donald Lauer, the head of the emergency department at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Central Phoenix, said his team is definitely seeing cases of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

According to Lauer, excessive heat causes a handful of deaths every year.

What many people do not realize is that heat stroke can be fatal if not treated promptly, and symptoms can go from bad to worse quickly. Once heat stroke sets in, simply drinking water isn’t enough. Emergency medical treatment is essential to prevent brain damage, organ failure or death.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, dizziness, light-headedness, a rapid pulse, general weakness and possibly fainting. Heat exhaustion can escalate to heat stroke if action isn't taken. Heat stroke occurs when the body's core temperature rises to 104 degrees or above.

“The danger signs are when you stop sweating,” said Dr. Nicholas Vasquez, explaining that the people most susceptible to heat-related illnesses are those who cannot get out of the heat, the very young, the elderly, and those with chronic medical conditions.

If you suspect a person is suffering from heat stroke, call 911 immediately and move him or her into the shade. Try to cool the patient by covering him or her with damp sheets or spraying him or her with cool water. Also fan the person.

Doctors say the key to avoiding heat-related illnesses is not only to be sure to drink enough water, but also to replace the salt your body loses through perspiration. Sports drinks can be helpful in that regard. It's best to avoid caffeine and alcohol as they can exacerbate heat-related illnesses.

So, exactly how much water should be you drinking? Doctors suggest most people consume about four liters, which is slightly more than a gallon, throughout the day. If you're going to be working outside or exercising, you will need even more.

According to Dr. Art Mollen, your urine is a great indicator of your hydration level. Light or clear is means you are well hydrated. Dark yellow or amber urine generally signals dehydration.

If you can avoid being outside during the heat of the day, do so. If that’s not an option, take frequent breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas. Also, wear light-weight and loose-fitting clothing when possible.