Oklahomans are no stranger to scorching summer days — or the risks that come with them. 

Those risks aren’t specific only to those working outside though. Dr. Nate Claver, medical director and an emergency medicine physician at Mercy Hospital in Ardmore, said anyone exposed to the excessive heat is at risk for heat-related illness. 

“Heat-related illnesses are a spectrum,” Claver said. “From heat exhaustion to injury, things can progress to an actual heat stroke.” The symptoms get progressively worse, beginning with a headache and dizziness and possibly including nausea, vomiting and sometimes changes in blood chemistry. “It becomes heat injury when changes occur in labs related to the kidneys and liver,” Claver said. 

Left untreated, heat-related illness could reach stroke levels, Claver said. “The symptoms of heat stroke include typical [central nervous system] issues such as confusion, lethargy and altered mental status,” Claver said. Those risks also increase with prolonged exposure.

“Taking frequent breaks and staying hydrated is important.” 

Claver said replacing electrolytes is especially important. 

Claver said those who may be at increased risk for heat-related illnesses include the elderly and the immunocompromised. “Those with higher risk factors should take extra precautions, including extra rest and more frequent breaks,” Claver said. Nobody is immune to the effects of southern Oklahoma’s extreme heat and high humidity. “Even athletes need to be aware of the potential for injury,” Claver said. “They are not just exposed to the heat but are also exhausting themselves physically.”

Some may be able to recognize they have overdone it and reverse the effects of prolonged exposure. “If you can get inside in the air conditioning and get hydrated and you start to feel better, you can probably stay home and take it easy,” Claver said. If those symptoms persist, though, a trip to the emergency room may be necessary. “If there is vomiting where you’re unable to hydrate or if symptoms worsen, come to the emergency room for fluids,” Claver said. 

It isn’t just the temperature that’s making the heat so miserable. According to meteorologist Randy Bowers with the National Weather Service in Norman, the air temperature is on the rise — as high as 106 for the south central region over the next few days. That isn’t the only reason it’s so difficult to stay cool. The humidity factors into the heat index, a number that is averaging 5-10 degrees higher than normal this week. “Heat indices over 105 indicate a higher potential for danger,” Bowers said. 

“The more humidity there is in the air, the more difficult it is for the body to cool itself down,” Bowers said. “The air temperature may be around 100 but the heat index could make it feel more like 105.” The NWS issued heat advisories earlier this week, encouraging residents of most of central Oklahoma to take extra safety precautions when it comes to staying cool. 

For more information about heat and safety, visit https://www.weather.gov/safety/heat.