Beating the summer heat
Temperatures in Texas are already nearing triple digits. Some people are more at risk of developing a heat-related illness than others, including older adults, outdoor workers, children, and people with chronic medical conditions.
Heat stress is heat-related illness caused by your body's inability to cool down properly.
The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn't enough.
In such cases, a person's body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.
Several factors affect the body's ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly.
Other conditions related to risk include:
- Heart disease
- Mental illness
- Poor circulation
- Prescription drug and alcohol use
Heat stress ranges from milder conditions like heat rash and heat cramps, to the most common type, heat exhaustion. The most serious heat-related illness is heat stroke.
Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Heat exhaustion is the most common heat-related illness.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy sweating
- Cool, pale, clammy skin
- Fast, weak pulse
- Possible muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
If you suspect someone near is you suffering from heat exhaustion, follow these first aid tips:
- Move person to a cooler environment
- Lay person down and loosen clothing
- Apply cool, wet cloths to as much of the body as possible
- Fan or move victim to air conditioned room
- Offer sips of water
- If person vomits more than once, seek immediate medical attention.
Heat stroke is more severe than heat exhaustion and requires medical treatment. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Altered mental state
- One or more of the following symptoms:
- Throbbing headache
- Shallow breathing
- Body temperature above 103°F
- Hot, red, dry or moist skin
- Rapid and strong pulse
- Faints, loses consciousness
If you suspect someone near you is experiencing heat stroke, call 911 immediately
. Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency. A delay in treatment can be fatal.
After calling for medical help:
- Move the victim to a cooler, preferably air-conditioned, environment.
- Reduce body temperature with cool cloths or bath.
- Use fan if heat index temperatures are below the high 90s. A fan can make you hotter at higher temperatures.
- Do NOT give fluids.
Anyone can develop heat stress. However, the following groups of people have a higher risk for experiencing heat stress or heat-related death:
- Infants and children up to four years of age
- People 65 years of age and older
- People who are overweight
- People who are ill or on certain medications
Heat-related death or illnesses are preventable if you follow a few simple steps.
Air conditioning is the strongest protective factor against heat-related illness.
- Stay in an air-conditioned area during the hottest hours of the day. If you don't have air conditioning in your home, go to a public place such as a shopping mall or a library to stay cool. Cooling stations and senior centers are also available in many large cities for people of all ages.
- Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
- Drink water often. Don't wait until you are thirsty.
- Avoid unnecessary hard work or activities if you are outside or in a building without air-conditioning.
- Avoid unnecessary sun exposure. When in the sun, wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim.
Exposure to air conditioning for even a few hours a day will reduce the risk for heat-related illness.