Researchers: Heat illnesses send teens, younger adults to ERs more than others

Heat wave
New research suggests people age 15 to 34 -- particularly boys and young men -- are most likely to turn up overheated in the ER.
Jim Mone | AP 2012

When the heat arrives, health officials usually warn of the dangers to the elderly and young, but new research suggests another group may be at risk as well: people age 15 to 34 — particularly boys and young men.

Researchers from Minnesota and Wisconsin combed through a decade's worth of data on heat stroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion.

Specifically, they looked at emergency room trips for those illnesses in every county in both states.

"We do see more elderly that are hospitalized, but for these emergency department visits I was surprised to see that males, and this 15 to 34 year old group were more at risk," said Minnesota Department of Health epidemiologist Tess Konen.

Researchers did not determine exactly why this cohort is most likely to turn up overheated in the ER. But it's likely because they're working outdoors in the summer or playing sports.

"This is just another group that we want to be careful to include in our prevention messaging, especially athletes and outdoor workers, as well as the young and the elderly," Konen said.

Hydrating during a game
Clarissa Heavner, center, and her U-13 Cottage Grove United teammates rehydrate during a game at the 2013 Schwan's USA Cup soccer tournament in Blaine.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2013

From 2006 through 2015, Minnesota emergency room staff treated more than 7,500 people for heat-related illnesses.

Dr. Doug Brunette, senior medical director for emergency and trauma services at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis, said heat stroke is the most serious of the conditions. Body temperatures usually top 104 degrees, and patients may lose consciousness or suffer seizures. Treatment involves cooling the person down and administering fluids.

Brunette said most people survive if their heart remains functioning, but in some cases damage from heat stroke can be permanent.

"I have seen cases of young people coming in with heat stroke who have had irreversible neurological damage to their brain. Although they don't die, necessarily, they end up with neurocognitive deficits."

Public health officials say that age-old advice — stay hydrated, drink plenty of fluids and avoid overexertion — is the best way to avoid a trip to the ER during hot weather. And Brunette said that above all else, never leave a child or a pet in a vehicle.

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