Summer is coming, and as Rio Grande Valley residents, we know what that means. While the summer season can paint a picture in our minds of leisurely pool and beach days, cool refreshments, and fun under the sun, the reality in our everyday living is somewhat different. The summer hits our area with intensity and even devastation. The temperatures can make it unbearable to enjoy time outdoors and we stay away from parks and playgrounds for a while. Regrettably, every year we also see cases of fatality due to heat-related conditions. We can be prepared to prevent heat exhaustion and heatstroke, and aware of recognizing signs and symptoms of these so we can act with prudence and avoid devastating outcomes.
HEATSTROKE VERSUS HEAT EXHAUSTION
It can be easy to confuse heatstroke with heat exhaustion and as a result, ignore the signs of danger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heat exhaustion is recognized by weakness, profuse sweating, erratic pulse, dizziness and nausea, and skin that feels cooler than normal. Heat stroke involves more severe symptoms such as body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, a very rapid pulse, hot and sometimes reddened skin, and potential loss of consciousness.
Heat exhaustion can make you ill and uncomfortable and may require medical help. Heatstroke, on the other hand, can quickly turn fatal. It is crucial to differentiate between the two in order to seek help quickly when a heat-related condition becomes life-threatening.
Despite widespread efforts to educate the public, heat-related illnesses and deaths still occur across the state each year. Even when death does not occur, the impact of high temperatures is felt in other areas of life as well. Many people miss time from work due to illnesses related to heat stress and exhaustion, costing families a regular paycheck in the summer months, and affecting productivity for some businesses.
According to the Texas Heart Institute, heat exhaustion is a phenomenon that typically afflicts those who fail to drink enough liquid while they are exposed to high temperatures. The groups most commonly affected are children, older people and the elderly, patients suffering from hypertension, and athletes and workers in high-temperature environments. Heatstroke also affects people with chronic illness who are also taking medications. Even pets can suffer from heatstroke and require immediate medical attention when symptoms first appear.
HOW TO AVOID IT
Experts recommend the best way to prevent heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses during the peak summer months is to avoid being outside during the hottest hours of the day. Those hours are typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. here in the Rio Grande Valley. Furthermore, always carry a reusable water bottle with you and drink plenty of water. Very importantly, no matter how short of a stop you are making, never leave anyone or any pets inside a vehicle.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Remember that most cases of heatstroke and exhaustion are preventable if you take the proper precautions. In the event that you experience a heat-related illness, below are the symptoms to look out for.
Heat cramps are the first sign that heat exhaustion is imminent and they usually involve the leg and stomach muscles. Make sure to immediately stop, rest, and hydrate to aid recovery.
Immediate treatment is necessary to avoid further complications if you are experiencing heat exhaustion. Move yourself or the person affected to a cool location and drink water. If there is vomiting or loss of consciousness, seek medical treatment.
When heatstroke occurs, the body’s ability to regulate heat shuts down. Seek medical help immediately, and move or transfer the affected person to a cool location. Attempt to reduce core body temperature by applying water-soaked towels to the body (room temperature water is fine). Conscious victims should consume water in small amounts to rehydrate.
The summer months in the Rio Grande Valley come with temperatures that soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Although this is a prime climate for heat-related illnesses, these are highly preventable by taking the right steps and being aware of risks and vulnerable populations. Be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke and, if despite your best efforts to prevent them, you start to notice symptoms, do not hesitate to get medical help immediately.