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As Temperatures Hit Triple Digits, ER Doctors Brace For Surge In Patients

A woman walks into the emergency room at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa,...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: A woman walks into the emergency room at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, Jan. 3, 2018.

Hot temperatures in San Diego County have been relentless, especially in the inland valley regions, where the sweltering heat has put some seniors and low-income residents at risk of serious health issues.

Temperatures in El Cajon in 30 of the last 40 days have reached 90 degrees or hotter, according to data from the National Weather Service, with nearly ten of those days hitting triple digits.

“We’ve seen an increased number of patients with heat stroke-related symptoms," said Dr. James Elia, emergency department assistant director at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

The East County emergency room is among the busiest ER’s in the county, serving up to 320 patients per day. When temperatures hit triple digits, doctors brace for more people in crisis.

Elia warned heat exhaustion can come on quickly for anyone of any age, but especially elderly people who are outside in the sun or living in closed up homes without air conditioning.

“The main concern with heat-related illnesses is dehydration,” Elia said. “And so with that comes weakness, headache, altered mental status, muscle aches, cramping.”

Homeless people are especially vulnerable in the dangerous conditions, Elia said.

“Sleeping outside for a couple of hours and they presented with sunburns and heat exhaustion and needed hydration,” he said.

Signs of heat stroke include dizziness, nausea, confusion and headache, Elia said. People experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

To prevent heat-related illness, Elia urged people to seek a cool shelter, drink plenty of fluids, take a cold shower, and wear loose clothing.

Photo by Susan Murphy

Seniors line up at to get into an air conditioned hall at a Salvation Army facility in El Cajon, where temperatures hit the triple digit mark before noon, Aug. 9, 2018.

A dozen seniors were lined up an hour early on Thursday to get into an air conditioned Salvation Army lunch hall in El Cajon — one of the county’s 100 designated "Cool Zones."

“This temperature is too high, it’s too high,” said Nidhal Alhasan, 70, who spends a few hours every day at the facility so he doesn’t have to spend money running his fans at home.

Donald Collins was also waiting in line on the shaded sidewalk. The 67-year-old homeless man with sunburned shoulders said it has been a rough summer.

“I have to handle it cause I’m out in the weather,” he said.

The seniors streamed into the air-conditioned facility when the doors opened at 10:30 a.m., knowing their reprieve from the scorching heat was just temporary.

Collins, who has lived on the streets for four years, refilled his glass of ice water to prepare for his next long walk to another cool zone.

“I walk back to the library, which is about 3 to 4 miles from here.”

Hot temperatures in San Diego County have been relentless, especially in the inland valley regions, where the sweltering heat has put some seniors and low-income residents at risk of serious health issues.

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