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Avoid the ER during heat wave: Stay cool, and, seriously, don't try to hydrate with beer

After a week with highs in the 90s, the Rice Hospital Emergency Department has seen several patients with heat-related illnesses. With another week with highs near 90 or higher, a local physician has offered some advice about what to do if the heat makes you feel sick.

A worker paints the side of a building in nearly 100-degree heat Wednesday afternoon, June 9, 2021, along First Street in Willmar. The Emergency Department at Carris Health-Rice Memorial Hospital has seen several patients a day with heat-related illness during the recent heat wave. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — With daily high temperatures in the 90s for the past week, the Emergency Department at Carris Health-Rice Memorial Hospital has seen at least several patients a day with heat-related illness.

Dr. Kenneth Flowe, medical director of the hospital’s Emergency Department, said Wednesday the hospital has seen people with heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Heatstroke, in particular, can be very serious, he said.

People with heat exhaustion become dehydrated and may become pale, weak and dizzy. They may sweat profusely or have muscle cramps.

With heatstroke, the body temperature rises, sweating stops, and a person could become confused or lose consciousness.


People who have mild heat exhaustion can probably recover with self-care — drink cool water, find an air-conditioned building like a library or shopping mall and relax for a while, he said. The strenuous activity could make the situation worse.

“If you pass out, you need to come in and be evaluated,” he said. “You’ll almost certainly need IV fluids.”

Sometimes, people who are out in the heat try to do the right thing and stay hydrated, “but they still can’t keep up,” he said. “It can really sneak up on you, and that’s why the people with the best of intentions sometimes fall victim.”

If it’s windy and hot, a person won’t notice how much they’re sweating, because it evaporates, he said.

“You may not appreciate how much fluid your body actually needs,” he said.

The best things to drink are water or an electrolyte replacement drink like Pedialyte or a similar generic, Flowe said.

While fluids are important, “It’s important that fluid not be pop, but it’s also important that the fluid not be beer,” he said. Sugary, caffeinated drinks or alcohol can cause more dehydration by stimulating urination.

The National Weather Service predicts daily high temperatures near 90 or hotter for the next week.


Flowe said he advises people who must work outdoors in this type of heat to take along four bottles of electrolyte replacements and to drink it throughout the day.

“Nobody likes it, it doesn’t taste good, but it’s magic,” he said.

Sports drinks like Gatorade aren’t as effective, not even a low-sugar variety, because it still has too much sugar and not enough salt, he said.

As the heat wave continues, people of all ages are vulnerable to heat-related illness, he said.

“It’s really important to check on elderly relatives,” Flowe said. They could have a greater risk of heatstroke because of the medications they take or medical problems they have.

Tips to beat the heat

  • Drink plenty of water!

  • Check on friends and neighbors at high risk for heat-related illness

  • Find air-conditioned places to cool off (shopping malls and libraries)

  • NEVER leave kids or pets in a closed, parked vehicle

  • If you go outside, remember a hat; sunscreen; lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing; and water

Source: CDC.gov

People cool off from the nearly 100-degree heat Wednesday afternoon, June 9, 2021, at Foot Lake in Robbins Island Park in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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