With daytime high temperatures now routinely reaching triple digits, we asked Dr. Jay Coates, medical director of University Medical Center’s Lions Burn Care Center, about staying safe in Las Vegas’ extreme heat.
Review-Journal: Describe some environmental contact burns that UMC treats in the heat of the summer. Is hospitalization possible in some cases?
Dr. Jay Coates: The most common contact burns tend to involve the sidewalk or pavement. In the heat of the summer, these surfaces can achieve temperatures in excess of 170 to 180 degrees. You’ve heard people talk about being able to cook eggs on the sidewalk, but at these temperatures, you could cook a steak or a rack of ribs. With temperatures this hot, it takes several seconds to a few minutes of contact to achieve a significant burn that requires hospitalization. Other common surfaces causing burns include cars, door handles or anything that has prolonged exposure to the sun. It’s important to keep this in mind when you’re out enjoying Las Vegas during the summer.
What can our readers do to prevent such burns?
First and foremost, people should be aware of how hot these surfaces can get. It is also important to wear shoes with appropriately thick soles when taking long walks. Under no circumstances should you attempt to walk barefoot across pavement or asphalt, regardless of how short the trip may seem. Some people carry an extra towel in their car so they can handle the steering wheel and gearshift when they first enter a hot vehicle.
Please discuss the severity of environmental contact burns vs. flame burns.
The degree of any burn is determined primarily from two factors: How hot is the offending source, and how long is the exposure? Although environmental contact burns typically affect a lower percentage of body surface area than flame burns, they can be substantially more serious. This is due to the fact that with prolonged exposure at these temperatures, you actually start to cook the flesh, causing damage to not just the skin, but often the sub Q tissue, its blood vessels and, in some cases, even the underlying muscle.
What about sunburn? How dangerous can that be if a person isn’t protected either by clothing or sunscreen?
Sunburns can be very dangerous and are probably the most common cause of minor burns not requiring immediate hospitalization. In addition to being exceptionally painful, they dramatically increase your risk of multiple types of skin cancer later on in life. You should at least have sunblock on during prolonged exposure to the sun. Ideally, you should also use UV protective clothing. Don’t forget hats, which are a simple and easy way to protect your head, neck and face from overexposure to the sun.
In addition to hydration, what are some recommendations for surviving triple-digit heat in Las Vegas?
Wearing appropriate clothing is important. Companies now make shirts and pants out of lightweight materials that have built-in UV protection. Long sleeves and long pants are not bad ideas for individuals with particularly pale skin. Wearing hats and/or carrying an umbrella is also a nice way to keep the sun off of you while you’re out and about in Las Vegas. Plan your trips and excursions well, and keep the temperature and weather in mind so you don’t end up stranded without enough water and appropriate sun protection.
If you are a medical professional who would like to be considered for this feature, please send an email with your name, a short description of your expertise and your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.