By Lauren McMinn Clarke, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
The heat is on! Summer is upon us, and in North Texas that means sweltering temperatures for months to come. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe this summer.
•Know how to avoid heat illness.
•The heat index is the temperature the body feels when the effects of heat and humidity are combined. Exposure to direct sunlight can increase the heat index by as much as 15°F.
•If you do not have air conditioning, choose places you could go to for relief from the heat during the warmest part of the day (schools, libraries, theaters, malls).
•Know those in your neighborhood who are elderly, young, sick or overweight. They are more likely to become victims of excessive heat and may need help.
•Be aware that people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than are people living in rural areas.
•Ensure that your animals’ needs for water and shade are met.
•Never leave children or pets alone in enclosed vehicles.
•Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol.
•Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays.
•Slow down, stay indoors and avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest part of the day.
•Take frequent air-conditioned breaks if you must work outdoors.
Know how to recognize and treat the three basic levels of heat illness.
1. Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms that usually occur in the legs or abdomen caused by exposure to high heat and humidity and loss of fluids and electrolytes. Heat cramps are often an early sign that the body is having trouble with the heat.
To treat signs of heat cramps, drink fluids containing sodium and potassium, and rest in an air-conditioned space.
2. Heat exhaustion typically involves the loss of body fluids through heavy sweating during strenuous exercise or physical labor in high heat and humidity. Signs of heat exhaustion include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea; dizziness; weakness; and exhaustion.
To treat heat exhaustion, move the person to a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin. Fan the person. If the person is conscious, give small amounts of cool water to drink. Make sure the person drinks slowly. Watch for changes in condition. If the person refuses water, vomits or begins to lose consciousness, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
3. Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition in which a person’s temperature control system stops working and the body is unable to cool itself. Signs of heat stroke include hot, red skin that may be dry or moist; changes in consciousness; vomiting; and high body temperature. Heat stroke is life threatening!
To treat heat stroke, Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the person’s body by giving care as you would for heat exhaustion. If needed, continue rapid cooling by applying ice or cold packs wrapped in a cloth to the wrists, ankles, groin, neck and armpits.
Download our heat safety checklist and stay cool this summer.