PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – It won’t be long before summer arrives with its daily triple-digit high temperatures in the Phoenix metro area.
Those scorching days are not just uncomfortable, they can be dangerous – even deadly. Particularly for those who don’t have a cool place to spend the day.
With that in mind, the Maricopa Association of Governments has created the Heat Relief Regional Network, which is comprised of hydration stations, heat refuges, and Emergency Heat Relief Stations, as well as collection sites for donations of bottled water, sunblock, lip balm, hats and other useful items.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego on Wednesday officially opened the 59 Phoenix locations that are part of the network.
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These locations offer free bottled water and an indoor respite, in which to cool off.
Emergency Heat Relief Stations operated by the Salvation Army are only open when an Excessive Heat Warning, issued by the National Weather Service, is in effect. That happens when daytime highs are expected to be 110 degrees or hotter.
[RELATED: What you need to know about heat warnings]
On average the Phoenix metro area sweats through 92 days (three months) of 100 degrees or higher and 11 days (nearly two weeks) of 110 degrees or more, according to the National Weather Service. Those numbers jump to 109 and 18 if you look at the data from 1981-2010.
Heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in Arizona and the U.S., according to Will Humble, the director of the Division of Health Policy and Program Evaluation the University of Arizona’s Health Sciences Center. Heat kills more people than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires -- combined.
"It’s hard to take a picture of heat so it gets less attention than things like floods, lightning, hurricanes and tropical storms," said Humble, former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. "The Arizona heat is a lot more than a nuisance – it’s dangerous and lethal."
An average of more than 120 people died of heat-related illness every year between 2001 and 2013. Hundreds more, nearly 2,000, landed in emergency rooms throughout the state.
Heat-related illness sneaks up on you and can go from bad to worse to deadly in a stunningly short amount of time.
[FORECAST: Arizona's Weather Authority]
There are several things you can -- and should -- do to protect yourself, especially if you have to be out in the sweltering sun.
Heat-related illness -- heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heatstroke -- results when your body is desperately trying to cool itself. As WebMD explains, blood rushes to the surface of your skin. That means less blood is getting to your brain, muscles and other organs -- the things that make your body operate.
Heat exhaustion happens when your body loses large amounts of water and sodium through excessive sweating.
Heat cramps are similar but generally strike during heavy exertion.
Heatstroke, the most dangerous, happens when your body can no longer cool itself. When you stop sweating, it's past time to worry.
The first symptom of all of these is dehydration, and it can be sneaky. The basic rule is if you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Conventional wisdom says you should be drinking eight glasses of water -- 64 ounces -- every day. In reality, most people should be drinking more.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution here.
The amount of water you need to drink depends quite a bit on what you eat. Some foods provide your body with needed water, while others, especially those high in sodium, leech it from your system.
Just as different foods affect the amount of water you should be consuming, so do different drinks. When it comes to hydration, not all fluids are created equal. Water is the best drink. Sodas and coffee containing caffeine can often contribute to dehydration, as can beer and other alcohol.
There are other factors, too. Medications you take and your lifestyle also play into your personal "how much water should I drink" formula.
Some doctors say most Phoenicians live in a state of mild dehydration during the summer.
Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration include a dry or sticky mouth, fatigue and lethargy, decreased urine output, dry skin, headache, constipation and dizziness.
Your urine is a great indicator of your hydration level. Light or clear means you are well-hydrated. Dark yellow or amber urine generally signals dehydration.
Mild to moderate dehydration can usually be dealt with by taking in more fluids, especially water or some kind of electrolyte-balanced sports drink.
Severe dehydration, however, is another matter. It’s a medical emergency that requires a 911 call and immediate care at a hospital or urgent care clinic.
Symptoms of severe dehydration include extreme thirst, irritability and confusion, a very dry mouth, lack of sweating, little or no urination, sunken eyes, dry skin that has lost its elasticity, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, and, in the worst cases, delirium or unconsciousness.
When it comes to dehydration, the best defense is a good offense. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, particularly before and during any kind of exercise or exertion. Guzzling water might be refreshing, but too much at a time can throw off your electrolytes or make you sick. Steady is the way to go.