By Brigham Madden-Cox
I recently took a trip to visit some family in Southeastern Arizona, flying from my home in the Philadelphia area. On my first day there I went on a hike with my father, his girlfriend, and their dog, Bela. After all, what’s better to do in the land of big sky and monsoon-lush mountains?
Location: Miller Canyon Trail
Temperature: 95° F
Elevation: 5850-7750 ft
It was a pleasant excursion, but unfortunately we didn’t make it more than a few miles, and two thousand feet up from our initial elevation. So yes, we were on a pretty steep incline most of the way, hence the early surrender.
My dad was ready to keep going, but the rest of us weren’t as thrilled—especially Bela, who was endeavoring to pant a tornado. We descended the mountain, hopped in my dad’s Jeep, and made our way back to A/C and copious amounts of water and trail mix.
That’s when the headaches started. Every time I stood up, a sharp pain would lance through my temples, which kept my butt firmly planted on a bed or couch for the next 18 hours. Intrigued, and a little concerned, I looked to the one place where you can be sure to induce hypochondria: The Google. Here’s what I found:
Heat Exhaustion & Heat Stroke = No Joke
OK, so it’s not likely that I had an intense case of either of these, but it certainly explained some things. Essentially what happens with heat sickness is your body can’t cool off enough, so it starts to overload like a laptop that isn’t getting enough ventilation. Except heat stroke symptoms are worse than your laptop crashing as it can cause confusion, seizures, and a slew of other things that just aren’t cool.
The good news is that you’ll probably notice that something is wrong and will be able to do something about it long before you get heat stroke. In other words, the heavy sweating, muscle cramps, and fatigue of heat cramps or the nausea, dizziness, and weakness of heat exhaustion will probably help you to reconsider the next few miles.
Frequent fluids, light clothing, and plenty of shade are great preventative measures, but the best is to take it easy so as to not overtax your body. Head over to Medline Plus for more information on heat sickness.
Heat Sickness in Dogs
Apparently dogs, even “outdoor” dogs, have “less effective heat dissipating mechanisms” which make your animals even more susceptible to heat illness. Suddenly, Bela’s intense panting, excess of drool, and increased body warmth made more sense, as all three are signs of approaching heat exhaustion.
PetMD has a video on heat strokes in dogs that is chock-full of information about taking care of pets in the heat, but one of the most important points is to not immediately douse your dog in cold water if it is showing signs of heat sickness. This can exacerbate the symptoms and cause seizures. Cool water and/or fans can be helpful, but preventative measures like shade and frequent access to water are your best option.
Thin Air and Altitude Sickness
Though the heat was bad, speeding up to almost 8,000’, after flying from the relatively low 35’ of the Philadelphia area, was more likely cause of my difficulties. Altitude sickness is caused by the low air pressure and oxygen levels of high altitudes, and can be particularly troubling for sea level dwellers like myself.
Mild symptoms of altitude sickness look much like mine from that day, including lasting dizziness/light-headedness, fatigue, and nausea, whereas more life-threatening symptoms are generally bluing skin, difficulty walking, and trouble breathing, even up to the extreme of coughing blood. For tips on how to prevent and treat altitude sickness visit the online U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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