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Preventing heat-related illness

It’s no secret that Texas has brutally hot summers. Without proactive prevention techniques, you could be at risk for heat-related illness, especially if you plan to enjoy the outdoors this summer. Despite the fact that all heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable, some statistical approaches estimate that more than 1300 deaths per year in the United States are due to extreme heat. 

 

What is heat-related illness? 

Also called hyperthermia, this condition results from exposure to extreme heat where the body is unable to properly cool itself. Normally, evaporation of sweat removes excess body heat; however, when humidity is high, sweat does not evaporate as quickly and the cooling process is not as effective.

 

Who is at risk?

Those at the greatest risk are infants and children up to 4 years of age, people 65 years of age and older, and those with medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Taking certain medications, such as cold and allergy medicine, can also cause you to be more susceptible to dehydration and therefore at greater risk for heat-related illness. Additionally, drinking alcohol can impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

However, even healthy individuals can succumb to heat if participating in strenuous activities during hot weather without taking precautions.

 

How can I prevent heat-related illness?

Stay hydrated by drinking lots of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages, even when you’re not thirsty. If you are engaging in vigorous activity in the heat, drink sports drinks. Drink enough to keep your urine very pale yellow.

Wear loose, lightweight clothing made of fabric that breathes and allows sweat to evaporate. A wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least 15 SPF can help prevent sunburn, which affects the body’s ability to cool itself.

Also, don’t stay outside in high temperatures for long periods of time. This is especially true for the hottest part of the day from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Take frequent breaks indoors or in a cool, shady spot with plenty of ventilation (like a fan).

 

What are the symptoms of heat-related illnesses?

Heat Cramps

Heat Exhaustion

Heat Stroke

  • Heavy sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Thirst
  • Muscle cramps
  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, pale and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tiredness/weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fainting
  • High body temperature (103ºF or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry skin
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness

 

How do I treat heat-related illnesses?

Heat Cramps

Heat Exhaustion

Heat Stroke

  • Move to a cool place
  • Rest
  • Drink fluids or sports drinks containing electrolytes
  • Move to a cool place
  • Loosen your clothes
  • Put cool, wet cloth on your body or take a cool bath
  • Sip water

Get medical help if:

  • Vomiting occurs
  • Symptoms get worse
  • Symptoms last over 1 hour
  • Call 911 — heat stroke is a medical emergency
  • Move to a cool place
  • Help lower the person’s temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath
  • Do not give the person anything to drink if the person is not alert or is vomiting

 

Practice prevention to avoid heat-related illness. The Texas State Office of Risk Management has a short video that helps illustrate the signs, symptoms, and prevention steps for heat-related illnesses. If you have questions or want more information, contact Risk Management at risk@twu.edu or 940-898-4001.