Need for Heat Precautions Rises with Temperature

Calendars mean little in terms of Texas heat. Intensely hot temperatures are just as likely in spring and fall as they are in summer. But whatever the time of year, extreme heat can create serious health problems, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

The elderly, the very young, people with chronic diseases and those without access to air conditioning are those most likely to suffer in extremely hot weather.

Preliminary figures for 2005 show 59 heat-related deaths in Texas, up from the 44 heat-related deaths marked in 2004 and in 2003. Typically, the most deaths are recorded in July, followed by August, then June.

Staying in an air-conditioned area, either at home or in a public place such as a mall, library or recreation center is the most effective way to combat heat. If air conditioning is not available, open the windows, pull the shades down to keep out the sun and use cross-ventilation and fans to cool rooms.

Symptoms of heat illness include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, nausea, weak but rapid pulse and headaches. People with these symptoms should find shade, drink water slowly and make sure there is good ventilation.

If fluids are not replaced soon enough, heat stroke can follow causing extremely high body temperature, red and dry skin, rapid pulse, confusion, brain damage, loss of consciousness and death.

To help a person showing severe symptoms, get the victim to shade, call for emergency medical services and start cooling the person immediately with cool water and or by fanning.

Children especially can quickly become dehydrated. They need to drink fluids frequently, especially water, and wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes. Avoid drinks that are heavily sweetened or contain caffeine. Check on children often, especially if they are playing outside in high temperatures.

Other Heat Precautions from DSHS:

  • Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle in hot weather, even for a short time.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid drinks with alcohol, caffeine or a lot of sugar. Don’t wait until you are thirsty. Start drinking fluids at least 30 minutes before going out.
  • Plan strenuous outdoor activity for early morning or evening when the temperature is lower.
  • Take frequent breaks when working outside.
  • Wear sunscreen SPF 15 or higher, wide-brimmed hats and light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.
  • Eat more frequently, but be sure meals are well balanced, cool and light.
  • Dress infants and children in cool, loose clothing. Shade their heads and faces with hats or an umbrella.
  • Check frequently on the elderly, the ill and others who may need help.
  • Adjust to the environment. A sudden change in temperature – an early heat wave or travel to a hotter climate – will be stressful to the body. Limit physical activity until you become accustomed to the heat.
  • Check with a doctor about the effects of sun and heat when taking prescription drugs, especially diuretics or antihistamines.

The body normally cools down by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating is not enough. The body’s temperature may rise rapidly to dangerous levels, leading to the possibility of heat illness or death.

A combination of high temperatures and high humidity especially can cause this natural cooling system to work overtime. When humidity is high, sweat may not evaporate efficiently, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. The stress of hard physical activity, fatigue, dehydration, heart disease, obesity, poor circulation, sunburn and prescription drug and alcohol use also contribute to heat-related health problems.

Prevention is the best defense against heat-related illness. Staying cool, drinking plenty of fluids, wearing cool clothing and monitoring outdoor activities are essential to staying healthy in hot weather.

For more information, please contact:

Beto Hernandez, Acting Health Coordinator
118 S. Cage Blvd. 1st Floor
Pharr, Texas 78577
956-402-4211

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