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As temperatures rise, be mindful of health risks, emergency room doctor says


As Las Cruces and much of the rest of the country endure extreme summer temperatures, it is important to be aware of the potential for heat illnesses and how they can be avoided, said a Las Cruces doctor.

“I have seen more heat-related illnesses here in the high desert than any place I’ve practiced,” said Dr. Kristopher Crawford, director of emergency services at Mountain View Regional Medical Center (MVRMC).

Those illnesses can include heat rash, generally followed by heat cramps – a warning sign of heat exhaustion, which can lead to heat stroke, “which can be life threatening,” said Crawford, who came to Las Cruces from South Carolina three years ago.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke are cool skin, breaking out in a cold sweat and heavy sweating, dizziness, weakness, rapid pulse, nausea and headache, he said.

The best way to treat these conditions is to get out of the heat if you can, “certainly out of direct sunlight,” Crawford said, stay hydrated and “cover up,” using a hat and loose-fitting-clothes to block the sun.

If you must work outside during extremely hot weather, “make sure you do that activity at a pace you can maintain in the heat,” Crawford said. “Work slowly,” he said, and take frequent breaks.

People taking medications should also take precautions, he said, because some medications may predispose them to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, Crawford said. Talk to your provider.

When it’s hot, it is also extremely important to avoid using alcohol and stimulants, even if they are prescribed, he said.

In addition to pre-existing medical conditions, age can contribute to the risk of developing a heat illness, along with activity level and dehydration, Crawford said.

People who are used to exercising outside – running, walking, hiking, biking, etc. – “Just don’t do that,” Crawford said. “Find yourself a treatment indoors or schedule your physical activity early in the morning,” he said.

“If you’re visiting from a very moist environment … and you come to high desert, you are going to be at higher risk of suffering heat exhaustion because you will be producing higher amounts of sweat,” Crawford said.

The human body was designed to operate “within temperate ranges” of temperature, he said. When it is “particularly hot or particularly cold, our physical adaptability begins to fail us. The body’s ability to compensate just can’t keep up. When we start getting into the upper 90s for a large portion of the day – hours and hours in the high 90s or 100s – that becomes a significant concern,” he said.

“Heat stroke can kill you,” Crawford said. “It can be a deadly condition. We do have people die from heat stroke here.”