(NEW YORK) — As excessive heat continues to grip the West Coast, people are at a higher risk of experiencing heat-related illnesses, officials warn.
Temperatures in Livermore, California, reached 116 degrees on Monday, the highest temperature ever recorded in the Bay Area, according to the National Weather Service.
Over the holiday weekend, two hikers died and several others were hospitalized in Arizona from heat exposure while hiking trails in the state. Another hiker in Utah died after a fall near the American Fork Canyon, authorities said.
Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburns and heat rash are all examples of heat-related illness that can be life threatening in extreme conditions, if not treated quickly. The body normally cools itself by sweating, but sometimes sweating is not enough. When this happens, the body’s temperature can rise rapidly and may damage the brain or other vital organs, according to the National Park Service.
Several factors can affect the body’s ability to cool itself in extremely hot weather such as strenuous physical activities; high humidity, causing sweat to not evaporate as quickly and preventing the body from releasing heat; and other health factors, such as age, obesity, heart disease or poor circulation, can also put people at higher risk of experiencing heat-related illness, according to NPS.
Heat exhaustion, heat strokes and electrolyte imbalances can prevent the body from functioning normally and can happen when someone becomes dehydrated, there is an imbalance in salt and water loss and intake or the body cannot cool itself down enough to cope with the external heat.
These problems can lead to confusion or loss of consciousness that can be very dangerous, especially when hiking, where someone may fall from a greater height than in other settings.
Hiking in extreme or excessive heat warnings can be dangerous, even for experienced hikers. Check the weather before going on a hike and don’t take chances if weather conditions are not ideal, according to the NPS.
There are several dangers associated with hiking that may not present in other outdoor settings including the risk that there may not be anyone to witness an injury, if a hiker passes out then they could fall from a greater height, a hiker who is unconscious may not be discovered in time or help may be very far away in remote settings.
It is safer to hike with a companion, but those who choose to hike alone should take extra measures to ensure they are prepared. Hikers should also know it takes more effort to hike at higher elevations because of the reduced amount of oxygen available in the air, according to the NPS.
Hikers should know their limits, plan their hike and know what to bring with them. There are a wide variety of hiking trails to accommodate different skills and capabilities, so it is important for hikers not to overestimate their abilities, according to the NPS.
It is helpful to leave a trip plan behind with a friend or family member not joining the hike in case of an emergency. Information that can be helpful to search and rescue teams includes where you will be hiking, your contact information, when you plan to arrive and return and who is going with you, according to the NPS.
The NPS lists 10 essentials for summer hikes:
- Water: plain and with electrolyte replacement
- Food: especially salty foods
- First Aid kit: including things such as bandaids, ace wrap, antiseptic
- Pack to carry the essentials
- Flashlight and spare batteries
- Spray bottle: fill with water to spray on yourself for air conditioning
- Hat and sunscreen
- Whistle or signal mirror
- Waterproof clothing: a poncho or jacket can be especially useful during monsoon season
There are no scientific studies to show how much water someone should plan for but, a good rule of thumb is to plan for one liter of water for every two hours of hiking, but this can vary by trail and time of year. When in doubt, ask a park ranger what they recommend for the intended hike.
Hikers should also know if there is any water on the trail, and where to find it.
Hikers should also consider taking a backup map that doesn’t rely on a cell phone since heat can drain phone batteries faster.
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