Staying safe in the extreme heat and the warning signs to watch for

Twin Cities metro emergency departments are seeing more heat-related problems. By early Friday afternoon, the Regions Hospital emergency room had already treated half a dozen patients for dizziness and dehydration. As the weekend goes on, doctors expect to see plenty more. 

During the 15-hour standoff in Hastings Thursday evening, the police chief says more than a dozen officers were treated for heat-related issues and at least three had to be hospitalized. 

“Typically we’ll see these patients when the weather is high over 90 degrees and really humid,” said Dr. Jeremy Olsen, assistant medical director for United Hospital’s emergency department.

Dr. Olsen didn’t treat the officers involved in the standoff, but says whether people are out in the sun for work or play, problems from the high temperatures are no surprise. 

“Especially when it’s so warm at night and it doesn’t cool down when people are sleeping - in homes, outdoors, tents, no air conditioning,” he said.

Dr. Olsen advises if you are out in the heat and you start to feel off - dizzy, extra thirsty - the first thing to do is get out of the elements or at least into the shade and ideally into air conditioning. It’s recommended to put a cold towel around your neck and take your temperature. A temp of 101 to 104 is the first sign of heat exhaustion. 

“Heat stroke on the other hand is a true medical emergency,” he said. “That’s a temperature greater then a 104 degrees. Now, with some neurologic changes. So for example, people will be disoriented, they’ll be confused, they’ll be having bizarre behavior.”

In this time of COVID-19, plenty of water fountains in public places are turned off, so it’s especially important to prepare and stay hydrated. 

“If you are outside for five hours and you haven’t gone to the bathroom once, that’s a concerning sign you are getting dehydrated and you need to do something about that,” said Dr. Olsen.

Depending on the severity of the symptoms you are feeling, if you or a loved one don’t start to feel better once you’ve cooled off, it’s time get some additional help. 

“If you are sick, we want to you come in so we can treat you and treat you appropriately rather than having something ignored or put off, potentially causing more problems down the road,” said Dr. Olsen.