Dangerous temperatures exceeding 105 degrees Fahrenheit in select areas of the Southeast and Southwest have prompted excessive heat warnings. The weather conditions pose a threat to young children, older adults, and anyone who doesn’t take the right safety precautions before and during the heat wave.
Last year, 43 Texas State Parks reported 102 heat-related illnesses in humans and pets. Since January 1, 54 heat-related incidents have already been reported, compared to 34 reported by this time last year, according to a news release from the department in late June.
Heat-related incidents can be prevented with a few measures to ensure that both you and your family can safely get through this heat wave.
Heat exhaustion is a very real threat to anyone who spends a lot of time in the sun. Even though it’s not always obvious from the get-go, several heat exhaustion symptoms can let you know there’s a problem.
As someone who has experienced heat exhaustion, it’s not a fun time! It interrupted my whole day and left me feeling weak, nauseous, and shaky.
Below, I’ll provide a comprehensive guide to heat exhaustion including its prevention, symptoms, treatment options, and the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
With temperatures soaring into the triple digits, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department shared their suggestions for staying safe in the outdoors. Here are their top six heat hacks:
>> Hydrate: It’s important to drink at least 16 ounces of water every hour in the heat to replenish your body and prevent dehydration. Don’t forget to bring enough for your four-legged family members too.
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>> Block the Rays: Apply a generous amount of sunscreen or sunblock before heading outdoors. Be sure to reapply every couple of hours and after swimming or sweating.
>> Dress Smart: Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing; a wide-brimmed hat, correct shoes, sunscreen, and wet bandanas to keep you cool while in the sun. For pets, protect paws against blistering by hitting the trails during cooler times of the day when the ground isn’t hot or by putting booties on pets to help shield paws from the hot ground. Touch the pavement or ground with the back of your hand. If you cannot hold it there for five seconds, the surface is too hot for your dog’s paws.
>> Stay Salty: Food helps keep up energy and replace salt lost from sweating. Eating snacks such as jerky, granola, trail mix, tuna, and dried fruit is a fantastic way to nourish your body while on the trails.
>> Buddy System: Two brains are better than one. It’s beneficial to have someone with you in hot conditions so you can look after each other on the trail. With high temperatures, heat-related illnesses are common, and having a friend around to help recognize the early symptoms can save you from getting sick.
>> Plan Ahead: Study the map and have it with you, avoid relying on your phone for maps since service may be unavailable in back-country areas. Average hikers move at 2 miles per hour, so allow yourself plenty of time to avoid hiking in the heat of the day. Make sure to rest in a cool or shaded area to recover from the heat if necessary. It is also a good idea to let someone know your plan before you hit the trails and what time you should be back. That way, if you become lost, people know where to look.
Be aware of the heat and humidity index. A relative humidity of 60 percent or higher makes it hard for sweat to evaporate off your body. This can then lead to overheating, reports WebMD. You can experience heat exhaustion on any warm day but the risk increases exponentially if the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more. If the heat and humidity are high, limit strenuous activity and try to stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day.
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Know if you are in a high-risk group. Heat exhaustion can affect anyone but the most vulnerable are those who are young and old: Children younger than 5 and adults older than 65 need to take extra precautions to avoid heat exhaustion.
If you do plan to spend time outdoors during a particularly hot or humid day, you can form good habits to protect yourself. First of all, hydrate! Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you’re not feeling thirsty.
Wear appropriate clothing and sun protection. Wear loose, light-colored clothing that is breathable. A breathable wide-brimmed hat will help you stay cool. Apply sunscreen frequently as well. If you have severe sunburn, you’re more likely to develop heat exhaustion because your body is warmer than usual according to Health Line.
Finally, NEVER leave children or pets in cars on hot days. This is common sense for most people but a reminder is still needed. Even adults can become overheated if they spend too much time in this environment!
First things first, you need to know the warning signs for heat exhaustion. This usually builds up over time and doesn’t hit you all at once. Some people might experience every symptom while others only have a few.
According to the Mayo Clinic the heat exhaustion symptoms and warning signs to watch for include:
- Heavy sweating
- Cool, damp skin
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Muscle cramps
- Low blood pressure (especially when standing up quickly)
- Swollen feet or hands
- Shallow breathing
- Dark urine
- Pale skin
If you or someone around you is experiencing these heat exhaustion symptoms, it’s important to treat them immediately. Heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke if it isn’t promptly dealt with.
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Once heat exhaustion has set in, there are several things you can do to treat yourself or others according to the Cleveland Clinic. It’s best if you can get someone to help you because a person who is affected shouldn’t be moving around too much.
First of all, heat exhaustion occurs when your body gets too hot and cannot cool itself down. This is especially common in areas with high heat and high humidity (because your sweat cannot evaporate and cool you down).
Your priority needs to be lowering your body temperature. If possible, go indoors and find a cool room and lie down. Otherwise, look for a shady area where you can get out of the sun. Don’t exert yourself in this condition.
You need to hydrate. Heat exhaustion commonly occurs when someone is dehydrated because they don’t have enough fluids to produce cooling sweat. Drink cool water or sports drinks to replenish fluids and electrolytes. Don’t gulp it down, but take small sips so you can slowly adjust. If you drink too much too soon, you’ll cause more harm than good. Avoid soda and alcohol during this time.
Finally, try to cool down with exterior methods. You can use cold washcloths, air conditioning, fans, or a cool bath/shower to lower your body temperature. If the affected person is wearing tight, restrictive clothing, that should also be removed.
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Try all of the methods above for about one hour. If the heat exhaustion symptoms don’t improve during this period, it’s time to seek medical attention.
Heat exhaustion isn’t fun to deal with but most people who receive proper treatment make a full recovery within a day or two. However, if the exhaustion is left untreated, it can rapidly change into heat stroke.
This is a serious medical emergency that can end in death. A heat stroke occurs when your body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. It can cause brain damage and can be life-threatening for most people reports the Mayo Clinic.
According to Health Line, symptoms of heat stroke include:
- High fever (104 or higher)
- Flushed, red skin
- Rapid heartbeat
If heat stroke has begun to set in, you need to seek medical help immediately. While you wait for them to arrive, do everything possible to lower the body temperature of the affected person. Immerse them in a cold bath, mist the skin with cool water, or apply ice packs to high blood flow areas (wrists, neck, groin, armpits). Get them out of the sun and keep them still until help arrives, states the Mayo Clinic.
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Heat exhaustion and heat stroke need to be taken seriously. If you feel like you’re becoming dizzy, weak, or nauseous after spending time in the sun, take care of yourself as soon as possible. These conditions can quickly get worse if you ignore them.
“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”