Summer heat is no joking matter, especially in Texas. An average of 675 people die from complications related to extreme heat each year. While athletes and people who work outdoors are at the highest risk, nobody can avoid the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Understanding heat exhaustion and heat stroke
Heat exhaustion is the first stage of heat stroke, and it occurs as a result of dehydration. Sweat is your body’s way of keeping itself cool, but it also causes your body to lose fluids that must be replenished. Failure to do so can result in heat exhaustion and symptoms including:
• Nausea and/or vomiting
• Pale, moist skin
• Excessive sweating
• Rapid breathing
• Weakness or fatigue
• Muscle cramps
If you begin to experience these symptoms, drinking water (and in some cases sports drinks containing electrolytes) can help improve symptoms and prevent the progression to heat stroke.
Heat stroke is the result of extreme heat exhaustion. Eventually your body will no longer be able to keep itself cool by sweating and temperature control will be lost, causing your body to overheat. When this occurs, body functions will rapidly decline. If not treated quickly, heat stroke can be fatal.
If you or someone near you is experiencing any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention:
• Dry, hot, red skin
• No sweating
• Rapid, shallow breathing
• Rapid, weak pulse
How to prevent heat stroke
Fortunately, the dangerous effects of heat stroke can be prevented. Here are five tips to keep you safe in the summer heat.
Stay cool. Avoid being outside for prolonged periods between the hours of 10AM and 4PM, when the heat from the sun is strongest. Stay indoors in a cool, air-conditioned place. Window coverings can help keep the inside of your house cool. If your home does not have air conditioning, consider spending hot summer days in public facilities that are air conditioned, such as libraries, movie theaters and shopping malls.
Hydrate. Dehydration is the primary cause of heat exhaustion, which leads to heat stroke. To avoid dehydration, keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, regardless of your activity level. Avoid dehydrating beverages such as alcohol and caffeine. As a general rule of thumb, women should drink at least 11 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Men should drink at least 15.
Limit physical activity. Vigorous physical activity can be dangerous during the heat of the day. If you plan to exercise during the late morning or afternoon hours, do so indoors. Plan gardening and other activities for cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or evening.
Look out for others. Keep tabs on your neighbors and loved ones, especially the elderly, to be sure they have a safe place to stay cool and have plenty of water to drink. Remember, children and animals should NEVER be left alone in parked cars. All it takes is a few minutes for a car’s internal temperature to become deadly.
Stay informed. Pay attention to local weather forecasts, heat advisories and warnings.