While Texas heat is nothing new, this summer’s heat has resulted in extreme temperatures – the kind that can take a terrible toll on your health more quickly than you realize. With that in mind, it’s important to make sure you take precautions to protect yourself and those you care about from the worst effects of the scorching summer sun.
Heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stroke and heat rash, and sunburn are three of the consequences that can be suffered from spending too much time in an environment without the benefit of air conditioning. Fortunately, there are things you can do to avoid these ailments.
The Mayo Clinic notes that heat cramps are involuntary muscle spasms that occur when you are active in a hot environment. They are usually more intense and last longer than typical leg cramps. Not drinking enough water, and the loss of electrolytes are often contributing factors. The muscles that most often cramp are located in your calves, arms, abdomen, and back.
If you start to suffer from heat cramps, the Mayo Clinic recommends resting and cooling down, drinking clear juice or a sports drink that contains electrolytes, gently massaging the affected area, avoiding strenuous activity for at least several hours, and seeking medical help if the cramps do not go away within about an hour.
Heat exhaustion may also include cramps, along with heavy sweating and a rapid pulse. Symptoms also include cool, moist skin with heat bumps, feeling faint and/or dizzy, fatigue, low blood pressure, nausea and headache.
Those who experience signs of heat exhaustion, according to the Mayo Clinic, should stop all activity and rest after moving to a cooler place and drink water or sports drinks. If symptoms do not improve within an hour – or if you are with someone showing symptoms of heat exhaustion and they become confused, agitated, lose consciousness or are unable to drink, seek immediate medical attention.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related injury and always requires medical treatment as soon as possible. When your body overheats and your body temperature rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (or higher), heatstroke can occur, the Mayo Clinic notes. “Untreated heat stroke can quickly damage your brain, heat, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing the risk of serious complications or death.”
Some of the symptoms of heat stroke are similar to heat cramps and heat exhaustion but are more severe. The main sign, according to the Mayo Clinic, is elevated temperatures reaching or surpassing 104. Other symptoms include confusion, agitation, slurred speech, delirium and seizures, and can result in coma. Skin may be hot and dry, and may turn red. Breathing becomes rapid and shallow, and the heart rate races as the body attempts to cool down.
If you see someone suffering from heat stroke, call 9-1-1 and get the person into an air-conditioned area, or if that is not available, into the shade. Remove excess clothing from the heat stroke victim, and cool the person down using water, a fan, ice pack or wet towels.
Dehydration and drinking alcohol are two factors that can contribute to heat stroke.
Although anyone can suffer from these ailments, age is a contributing factor. Young children and adults over 65 are more susceptible, as these groups have a more difficult time staying hydrated the Mayo Clinic notes.
Avoid leaving children, pets, the elderly or anyone who cannot care for themselves inside a parked car when it is hot – even with the windows cracked. The CDC notes that temperatures inside a car can quickly reach dangerous temperatures.
Other threats from the outdoor extreme heat include heat rash and sunburn.
Heat rash can affect people of all ages, and it is especially prevalent when the weather is hot and humid. The Mayo Clinic states that skin blisters and rashes can sometimes feel prickly or severely itch.
The rash usually goes away by itself after a few days, and those suffering from it should avoid exertion in the heat or spending extended time outdoors until their condition improves.
More severe types of heat rash – and that which does not improve within a few days -- should be treated by a doctor. Signs of infection related to the rash, according to the Mayo Clinic, include increased pain, swelling and redness in rash areas, pus draining from lesions on the skin, swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, neck or groin area and fever or chills.
Sunburn is something nearly everyone has experienced at one time or another. While it is more likely to occur when conditions are hot and sunny, it can also occur even on cloudy days.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that the most intense time for exposure to the sun is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Those with fair skin can suffer from sunburn after just 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to the sun.
Sunburn causes not only short-term pain from affected areas, it also greatly increases one’s likelihood of getting skin cancer in the future.
The CDC recommends people use a sunscreen with at least 15, as well as wearing sunglasses that offer both UVA and UVB protection to prevent the sun’s ultraviolet light from damaging your eyes. Because sunscreen’s protection is temporary, it should be replaced after two hours in the sun, or after sweating.
The best way to avoid sunburn, of course, is to avoid intense sunlight and seek refuge in shaded areas. Certain types of clothing are also better for helping protect you from sunburn. Hats that protect your face, ears and neck are also recommended. More information on avoiding sunburn can be found here.
More information on avoiding heat-related illnesses can be found here.