Summertime comes with anticipation for barbecues and hikes, biking and swimming, and cool treats on sweltering evenings. But despite the iconic activities, summer comes with some not-so-hidden health and safety hazards. Too much time in the heat can lead to serious conditions such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps. As the summer months begin, we highly encourage Baytown residents to familiarize themselves with the reality of heat related illnesses and take necessary precautions. This information saves lives.
Heat Related Illnesses by the Numbers
Heat related illnesses are not to be taken lightly. They’re far more serious than simply getting hot and uncomfortable, and can result in permanent physical damage or even death. For an idea of just how critical it is that you and your loved ones keep yourself as safe as possible during the hottest months of the year, we ask you to consider the following statistics:
- 11,000 Americans died of heat-related causes between 1979 and 2018
- 702 heat related deaths occurred annually in the United States between 2004 and 2018
- An average of 38 American children died from heat stroke between 1998 and 2020
- More than 80% of heat stroke victims are over 60, making seniors the most vulnerable to succumbing to heat related illnesses
Although anyone can suffer heat related illnesses, there are some risk factors involved that may increase your chances of experiencing heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and more.
People who fall under one or more of the following categories have an increased risk of experiencing a heat related illness:
- Infants and young children
- People over age 65
- People with dementia or other cognitive disabilities
- People whose outdoor activities involve considerable physical exertion, such as physical labor or exercise
- People who are physically ill, particularly with high blood pressure or heart disease
- People on medications whose side effects involve sensitivity to the sun, including some for circulation, depression, and insomnia
- People who live in homes with inadequate air conditioning, or no air conditioning at all
If there’s a person in your life who is at risk of heat related illnesses, the CDC recommends that you check up on them at least twice a day to make sure they’re staying protected. We’d like to reiterate that even if you don’t have any of these risk factors in your life, you should still take every precaution to prevent heat related illnesses.
How to Prevent Heat Related Illnesses
As temperatures rise, so does your need to stay on top of heat related illness prevention. We highly encourage you to take all the following precautions to reduce you and your family’s heat related illness risk:
- Hydrate regularly by drinking water.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, as they can dehydrate you faster.
- Drink electrolyte beverages to replace salts and minerals lost while sweating.
- Only take salt tablets if a doctor instructs you to continue doing so, and adjust hydration as required.
- Never leave children or infants alone in a car.
- Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing in lightweight materials.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat that provides adequate shading.
- Apply a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher at least half an hour before going outside. Reapply regularly as sweat or water washes it off.
- Stay indoors as often as possible during the hottest parts of the day (about 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.). Go to a public place like a coffee shop or library if your air conditioner is broken.
- Avoid sitting on metal chairs or benches. Stick to shaded areas.
- If you must be outside, avoid doing so alone. Have someone with you who can monitor for signs of heat related illness, and do the same for them.
Perhaps most importantly, stop what you’re doing if you notice that you or a person nearby is displaying the symptoms of heat related illness, then take the proper actions. Knowing what to look for and how to address the onset of a heat related illness immediately can be the difference between life and death.
Symptoms of Heat Related Illnesses
Every summer, we highly recommend taking the time to review all the signs that someone is suffering from a heat related illness. This knowledge saves lives. Many of the symptoms do overlap, but the responses required to keep patients safe and healthy can differ.
Heat Stroke Symptoms
- Losing consciousness
- Body temperature of 103º or higher
- Pounding, fast, or strong pulse rate
- Skin that’s damp, hot, or unusually dry to the touch
- Reddening skin
- Disorientation or hallucinations
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms
- Losing consciousness
- Cold or clammy skin
- Pale skin
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle cramps
- Weakness or tiredness
- Abnormally heavy sweating
- A fast but weak pulse rate
Heat Cramps Symptoms
- Unusually heavy sweating during exercise
- Muscle pain
- Muscle spasms
Once you notice the signs, take action as soon as you are able.
What to Do if You Have a Heat Related Illness
Every heat related illness requires a different set of intervention protocols to prevent permanent injury or death. Again, we advise that once you’ve identified the symptoms, you or the patient stop your current activities and take the necessary steps to keep safe.
Addressing Heat Stroke
First of all, call 911 if you or someone in your vicinity begins displaying the signs of heat stroke. While you wait for the ambulance to arrive, take the following steps:
- Move into a cooler space, preferably indoors.
- Use cool cloths or a cool bath to lower the patient’s body temperature, especially around the groin and armpit areas.
- Elevate the patient’s feet.
- Fan the patient to encourage sweating.
- DO NOT give the patient anything to drink, as it may cause vomiting.
Addressing Heat Exhaustion
- Move the patient into the shade or indoors with air conditioning.
- Sip water. Gulping or chugging can lead to vomiting.
- Cover the body in wet, cool cloths or take a cold bath.
- Loosen any possible tightness in clothing.
Call 911 or go to the emergency room if:
- Patient starts vomiting
- Symptoms persist for over an hour
- Symptoms worsen despite first aid
Addressing Heat Cramps
- Immediately stop physical activity
- Drink water or electrolyte beverage
- Do not resume physical activity until the cramps subside
Call 911 or go to the emergency room if:
- You have a pre-existing heart condition
- You are currently on a low-sodium diet
- Your cramps persist for over an hour
Your Baytown Heat Related Illnesses Resource
Our team at Patients ER is prepared to offer emergency intervention in the event of a heat related illness. We ask that you please keep our address on hand both at home and while out and about in case you need to bring a patient in for medical care: 10133 Interstate 10 East, Baytown, TX 77521.
In addition, we’re available to answer any questions you may have about the prevention and recognition of, or care for, heat related illnesses by phone at 281-576-0555 or via our website. We hope you and your loved ones stay safe this summer.