It’s not “officially” summer yet, and the forecast has Houston hitting triple digit temperatures this week. And that’s not the heat index! As we get thrown into extreme heat/humidity again, a UT Physicians family medicine specialist offers her advice on staying safe in the heat.
Heat safety tips
The one thing Elena N. Zamora, MD, says is the most critical to avoiding a heat illness is to be prepared.
“Heat exhaustion or heat strokes — all of this is preventable. You don’t realize how quickly you can become dehydrated,” she explained.
A few easy, everyday tips to consider are:
- Avoiding direct sunlight as much as possible
- Drinking plenty of fluids, at least eight cups a day
- Not going out during the hottest times of the day, typically between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Wearing light-colored and loose clothing
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Be aware of the predicted air quality, especially those who suffer from allergies or asthma
Skin safety is also extremely important to remember year-round. On cloudy or hazy days, a minimum of 15 sun protection factor (SPF) is acceptable. However, during times of intense activity in direct sunlight, a higher SPF consistently reapplied is recommended.
Signs of a health emergency
Staying in the sun for too long can lead to obvious warning signs from your body. Heat cramps are usually the first indicator of dehydration and feel similar to a charley horse. To subdue these pesky but serious spasms, Zamora recommends drinking water, stretching, and getting out of the heat.
A more serious bodily response to overexposure to the sun is heat exhaustion. Symptoms can include weakness, fatigue, headaches, and nausea. People suffering from heat exhaustion may also profusely sweat.
“Once someone is experiencing heat exhaustion, it’s important to get them out of the heat, remove their clothing, put ice packs on their body, and push fluid intake,” she shared. “If there are fans available, it’s best to turn those on as well.”
The final and most severe outcome of too much sun is heat stroke, which starts off similar to heat exhaustion and then progresses to severe symptoms like confusion, seizures, and coma. A pale or dry appearance can be a warning sign because this means a person’s sweat response has failed. Immediate medical attention is necessary with any of these symptoms.
For parents or caregivers of younger children who are unable to express their discomfort, it is vital to be on the lookout for symptoms — particularly flushed or clammy skin, cramps, or confusion. Immunocompromised individuals or those on certain medications should also consider reducing their sun exposure as it may worsen their illness(es). There are many medications that reduce a patient’s sweat response.
So whether you’re doing yard work, at the pool, or at a waterpark this summer, listen to your body and be mindful of others.
“Heat exhaustion can also affect a person’s judgment so whenever you’re in a public place, take a moment to look around for others who might be in danger of heat-related illness,” said Zamora. “That simple act could save a life.”