July is here and is bringing with it sunny skies and high temperatures. This week, our editorial board reminds readers to take care of themselves if they must spend time in the summer heat.
The Texas Department of State Health Services warns that being out in the heat can cause serious health problems, affecting elderly, very young, sick and overweight people the most, as well as those who don’t live in an air-conditioned residence.
But anyone who spends time outside could be susceptible to heat-related illnesses — the body’s reaction when it’s unable to keep itself cool.
Normally, sweating keeps you cool enough to function, though you may feel sticky and smelly. However, when it’s very hot outside and especially when it’s humid, sweating isn’t enough to keep your body temperature from rising to dangerous levels, leading to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
You can tell if you’re coming down with heat exhaustion by how your response to the heat is changing. If you’re starting to feel cramped, weak, dizzy or nauseated, or if you feel your pulse beating rapidly or a headache coming on, you’ve likely exhausted your body’s ability to take the heat. You need to find shade immediately, drink water slowly — so as to treat your dehydration without shocking your system — and rest in a well-ventilated area. Taking a cool shower can help, too.
These measures help your body replenish the water it lost through sweat and return to a normal temperature. If you aren’t able to replace your fluids soon enough, heat exhaustion can be followed by more serious problems.
Heat stroke is the biggie: Your body temperature rises dangerously high, your skin becomes red and dry, your heart beats rapidly, you grow confused. Extreme cases of heat stroke can also cause brain damage, loss of consciousness and death.
Usually, if someone has progressed beyond heat exhaustion and is showing signs of heat stroke, it’s up to someone around them to get them the care they need. If you notice someone suffering heat stroke, move them to a shaded area and cool them as soon as possible with whatever means are available, such as spraying or sponging them with cool water or fanning them, while you call emergency medical services or direct someone else to call.
These measures could save someone’s life. But the best treatment for heat illness is prevention.
Health officials recommend common-sense measures like drinking plenty of fluids that don’t contain caffeine or alcohol (those will dehydrate you). Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to take a drink of water; instead, drink enough that you still urinate normally. In addition, wearing sunscreen and lightweight, light-colored clothing; scheduling outdoor activities in the early morning or late evening; and using a buddy system so you can keep an eye on each other or trade off duties outside will help you stay safe in the heat.
If you have young children, make sure they drink enough fluids too, as kids can get dehydrated more quickly. Watch for signs of heat rash, which looks like a red cluster of small blisters and is most common in young children, and move children somewhere cooler if it starts to look like the heat is getting to them. Never leave them in a closed vehicle in hot weather, even for just a short time.
Those living without air conditioning this summer should consider spending some time each day in a public place that does have air conditioning, such as the library, the Stanford House senior activity center or a retail business. The Centers for Disease Control advises that even just a few hours a day in air conditioning will reduce your risk of heat-related illnesses.
Finally, think about those around you who might be vulnerable to the heat, and commit to checking with them often in hot weather. By working together, we can help keep everyone safe this summer.