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Arizona desert

Risk of heat illness rises with the temperature

ED physician offers tips to survive scorching desert summers

(CHANDLER, Ariz. – May 24, 2023) – An emergency medicine physician at Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center warns that Arizona’s triple-digit temperatures can pose a serious threat to longtime desert dwellers and multitudes of new residents each year, making it vitally important to protect yourself and those around you in the summer months.

“As more people move to Arizona, it is essential for them to learn the simple measures to stay safe and avoid suffering a heat-related illness or death. Even longtime desert-dwellers can be at risk,” says Erik Mattison, MD, medical director of the emergency department at Chandler Regional. Dr. Mattison has treated many patients for heat-related illness throughout his career.

He further explains that because many Phoenicians spend the summer moving from air-conditioned homes to air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned offices, they may ignore the dangers posed by consistently high temperatures.

Deaths attributed to heat have spiked in recent years. Arizona Department of Health Services reported a record 522 heat-related deaths in 2021 and 2020, up 84 percent from 2019. Nearly two-thirds of those occurred in Maricopa County, according to state statistics. Other studies have shown those most at risk of suffering a heat-related death are between the ages of 50 and 65 followed by those between 35 and 49 years old.

“All heat-related deaths are preventable, but the key is to take the necessary precautions,” Dr. Mattison says.

He says hydration is essential – and “pre-hydration” is important for those who exercise outdoors. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, so he advises avoiding them around outdoor workouts.

Dr. Mattison says that Valley residents can examine their urine for signs that they may be dehydrated, “If it’s dark and concentrated, that means they’re dehydrated and their body is trying to hold onto all the water it can.”

Furhter, Dr. Mattison urges runners, hikers and bikers to hit the trails early in the morning. During the desert summer, the lowest temperatures typically occur shortly before dawn. In fact, the City of Phoenix closes three popular hiking trails between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on days when the National Weather Service issues an Excessive Heat Warning.

It takes time, even for the hardiest Phoenicians, to acclimate to the heat. “Even when we live here, when we have that first 100- or 110-degree day, it’s going to take at least a week to adjust to it,” Dr. Mattison adds.



Publish date: 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

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Sara Patterson, External Communications Manager

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