Health

Wednesday, Jul 03 2013 12:18 PM

How to beat the heat: Some hospitals noticing spike in ER visits

BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

With temperatures soaring beyond 100 degrees, local emergency room workers are noticing different trends in heat-related trips to the hospital.

"The (emergency department) staff this week alone had noticed a huge swing in our volume and they've noticed a lot more heat-related complaints," said Jenny Wilson, registered nurse and director of Bakersfield Memorial Hospital's emergency room.

The emergency department usually has a rush of patients from 7 p.m. to midnight but the busy hours have shifted to 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., Wilson said.

"We're having a lot more homeless people that are being brought in that have severe sunburns, that are dehydrated," she said, adding that people who depend on swamp coolers also appear to be hit harder by heat.

Staff at Mercy Hospital Downtown and Mercy Hospital Southwest have also "seen an increase in heat complaints since the temperatures have spiked," hospital spokeswoman Sandy Douchette wrote in an email.

But workers at San Joaquin Community Hospital and Kern Medical Center said they have not seen an influx in heat-related medical problems.

"I haven't noticed any uptick," said Dr. Paul Mroz, a faculty physician at KMC.

Though many locals appear to be weathering the heat wave OK, emergency room workers said it's still important to take precautions as the temperature rises.

Avoid exertion if you can and be aware that the elderly and children are more susceptible to the sun's wrath.

"Stay very well hydrated, drink a lot of water even if you don't feel thirst," Mroz said.

Wilson also hammered the importance of hydration for everyone, including toddlers and young children.

"We should probably be drinking twice the amount or three times the amount of water," she said.

While celebrating Independence Day, take breaks from the sun and find a cool place to rest. Cover your head with a hat and do the same for children. Make sure kids are slathered in sunscreen, regardless of their ethnicity, Wilson said, adding that Memorial's emergency department offers free packets of sunscreen.

Watch youngsters for signs of dehydration, such as dizziness when they stand, shortness of breath and diarrhea. Be especially vigilant with children younger than 2, as they may not be able to speak up if they aren't feeling well, Wilson warned.

Pets also need water and protection from the heat.

"If it's an outdoor pet, they need to have shade and all pets need to have cool, fresh water," said Tiffany Pierce, a registered veterinary technician at Stiern Veterinary Hospital in Bakersfield.

Even a few minutes in a hot vehicle can be rough for dogs, whose only means of self-cooling is panting and sweating from their paws, Pierce said. Remember that asphalt and concrete can scorch pets' paws.

On top of searing temperatures, animal lovers have another pet problem to mitigate: fireworks.

The Bakersfield Police Department and Pierce urged pet owners to keep their animals inside or in a secured space. For pets that are more sensitive, keep them in a smaller, darker room and provide distracting noise, such as a television or radio.

Tranquilizers may also help, but Pierce said pet owners should test those medications before the big bangs so they know how they will affect their pet. Don't tether animals that aren't accustomed to being tied up, and remember that frightened pets may escape their enclosure.

"You don't want to leave (pets) outside in a yard where they're unattended," Pierce said.

Make sure your pets have identification or are microchipped to help them get home safely if they do break out. If your pet runs away in Bakersfield or Kern County, police recommend a visit www.petharbor.com or stopping by the shelter at 201 Mount Vernon Ave.

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