Record letting temperatures can lead to heatstroke.
(Photo by iStock Photo)

It’s A Dry Heat: How To Prevent Heatstroke While Having Fun In The Sun

The word summer means many things to many people. For some, it is a reminder of days beside the pool, cookouts, warm days, and wonderful evenings. For residents of the Southwest, the word summer is more of a warning than a season. With the temperature reaching triple digits for days and weeks at a time, the Southwest has a well-earned reputation of being brutally hot all summer long. 

Record High Heat

While the obvious locations such as Death Valley are known for extreme heat, most cities across the Southwest see scorching heat as well. Lake Havasu, Arizona currently sits at the top of this list with a record temperature of 128° on June 29th, 1994.  Not far behind it is Phoenix with a toasty record of 122° set on June 26th, 1990. The air temperature reached the point that Sky Harbor International Airport was temporarily closed as pilots did not have sufficient information on their lift charts to safely take off or land. These cities see not only extreme highs but constant heat as well. The vast amount of concrete and asphalt create heat islands. As these hard surfaces are bombarded by the sun they heat up and stay hot for long periods. This makes for even nighttime temperatures in the 100° range at times.  

“It’s a Dry Heat.” Yes, it is a cliché yet there is a great deal of truth to it.  The lack of humidity in the air can make the temperature seem much cooler than it is.  This is dangerous for the uninitiated as they may not take proper precautions while outside. With the arid nature of the desert, people dehydrate simply by breathing. We need to explore some of the dangers associated with extreme heat.

Heatstroke can be very deadly.
(Photo by iStock Photo)


Heat pushes the human body to keep cool and maintain a normal internal temperature. This is accomplished by sweating which evaporates on the skin, thus cooling the body. In hot arid areas, this moisture can evaporate so quickly that the person never gets the cooling benefits of the action. This can lead to a chain of health problems. The first thing generally experienced is heat cramps. These are severe muscle cramps brought on by the initial stages of dehydration. While not fatal, they are a painful reminder that heat can be your enemy.

The second stage people can move into is heat exhaustion. This can be characterized by headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fainting. Left untreated, it can move into the most dangerous conditions – heat stroke. Heatstroke is a severe life-threatening condition where the body’s core temperature reaches 105° or above. Unconsciousness is one of the primary signs of heatstroke, short, shallow breathing, rapid heart rate, and hot, dry skin. Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition, and victims will require emergency medical attention.

Getting Informed

Heat ProblemSymptomsFirst-aid
Severe Sun BurnPainful red skin possible blisters HeadacheCool shower drink cool water over the affected area with clean dressingSeek medical attention if the pain is severe
Heat CrampsPainful spasms in the legs or other parts of the bodySeek cover out of the sun and sip cool water gently stretch cramping areas seek medical attention if the condition does not improve or worsens
Heat ExhaustionHeadache Nausea Exhaustion DizzinessSit down Apply cool moist compresses sip cool water loosen tight clothingSeek medical attention if the condition does not improve or worsens
Heat StrokeFaintingDry, hot skin Nausea Pale or flushedContact emergency services – Call 911Move to an air-conditioned areaLie downApply cool compressed remove as much clothing as possible
The Southwest can be dealdly due to extreme heat.
(Photo by iStock Photo)

Preparing For The Heat

Surviving and thriving in extreme heat takes some serious planning and understanding of the dangers. Arizona is well known for its’ epic summer temperatures. It is also a great place to look at what we can do to protect ourselves from the heat. These rules can be used anywhere there is extreme heat. It must be recognized and respected as with any known threat or danger. For visitors to hot regions, it is important to educate yourself about the unique challenges you may face.  Read guides and talk with locals to better enjoy your time. The keys to dealing with the heat are straightforward. 

  1. Stay hydrated. 
  2. Drink water at every opportunity.
  3. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages as they tend to speed up dehydration.

A commonly accepted, if not socially uncomfortable, check your hydration levels is through urine color. If appropriately hydrated, it should be mostly clear. Dark or cloudy urine is a tell-tale sign of dehydration. There is no shortage of electrolyte drinks on the market.  If you go that route, choose one that performs well, such as Hoist. Other things you can do include covering up. While it seems counterintuitive, you need to protect your skin from the sun. Lightweight, baggy light-colored clothing can help keep the sun’s cooking rays off your skin.

Food And Drink

Try to eat light. Avoid heavy, protein-rich foods as they demand large amounts of water from your body to digest. Meals should be well balanced and include fruits and vegetables to help maintain your electrolyte levels. And of course, you should listen to your body. While physical issues caused by heat tend to start small, they do not necessarily happen slowly. People can quickly suffer heatstroke depending on their physical condition and health issues, and people can soon suffer heatstroke. If you begin to feel fatigued, it is time to seek shelter and cool your body.  

Whether you live in downtown Phoenix in July, or Kansas City in August, heat can be a challenge. By being prepared and staying hydrated, you can go beyond just getting through the summer and begin to get out and enjoy it.  

Fred. Mastison is a professional instructor in the fields of defensive tactics, firearms, and executive protection

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