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Staying Safe in the Texas Heat: Understanding Heat Exhaustion

Lone Star Family Health Staying Safe in the Texas Heat: Understanding Heat Exhaustion Dr. Cruz Profile

What is Heat Exhaustion?

Our bodies under normal circumstances stay at a temperature somewhere around 97-98 degrees Fahrenheit despite the effects of the environment around us. Heat exhaustion occurs when our body begins to have a hard time maintaining normal body temperature and our temperature becomes elevated (up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit) due to the environment around us. This most often occurs when we are outside in hot weather for long periods of time: playing sports outside, gardening, doing outdoor work, or not having shelter over us during the hottest parts of the day. Heat exhaustion can range from mild to severe and can even lead to heat stroke if not recognized quickly. Therefore, it is important to know what symptoms to look out for. What are the symptoms of Heat Exhaustion?

  • Dizziness
  • Feeling thirsty
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Feeling weak
  • Nausea
  • Changes in vision 

What puts you at risk of developing Heat Exhaustion? 

Working outside during the hottest parts of the day, working in areas with poor circulation or that are not climate controlled, and not staying hydrated when you are going to be in a hot environment put you at a higher risk of experiencing heat exhaustion. Children, people with certain health conditions like heart conditions and high blood pressure, and the elderly are most at risk. Certain medications can also put you at a higher risk of heat exhaustion. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider to see if any of the medications you take put you at higher risk so that you can take precautions.

How do we treat Heat Exhaustion?

Cooling the person and keeping them hydrated are the two main parts of treating heat exhaustion. If you think someone around you may be experiencing heat exhaustion, help them get to a cool area in the shade or indoors if possible. Offer cool water or drinks with electrolytes to help them cool down and rehydrate. You can place cool rags on their foreheads and under their arms. You should also call for help from a healthcare professional especially if you notice that the person is becoming confused, has stopped sweating, or is becoming less attuned to what is going on around them.

How can you prevent Heat Exhaustion and why is prevention important?

There are many actions you can take to prevent heat exhaustion. If you are going to be in a hot environment, use this checklist to prepare for the day:

    • Stay hydrated with cool water and/or drinks containing electrolytes.
    • Wear clothing that is light colored and light weight to prevent attracting heat and allow your body to cool down. Wear large, brimmed hats to shade yourself from the sun.
    • If you begin to feel tired, hot, or weak, take a break and cool off. Do not push yourself!
    • If you must do work in your garden or yard, try to do the work early in the morning or in the evening hours when it is cooler.
    • Use fans to help keep you cool.
    • If you or someone you know is not feeling well in the heat, let someone know immediately and seek help from a healthcare provider.

Prevention is important because if heat exhaustion is left unrecognized or untreated it can progress to a heat stroke and can result in permanent damage to organs like the brain and kidneys and could even be deadly.

It is my hope that this information will prove useful in the hot summer days ahead and help prevent you and your loved ones from suffering from heat exhaustion. If you feel that yourself or someone you know is showing signs of heat exhaustion, consult a healthcare provider as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment. Have a safe and fun summer!

Savannah Cruz, M.D.Dr. Cruz is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.