Keeping your cool during summer in Texas
We are way above and way beneath. Above average temperatures for summer and beneath accumulated rainfall for the year. Typically temperatures for early summer in Southeast Texas average around 92*F. This has been anything but an average year thus far. There was the fairly mild winter with a possible snow/ice storm thrown in the mix, then a surprise cool spell at the beginning of May. If the trend in extreme weather that has been hitting the nation spreads to the Southeast Texas region this summer will shape up to be a challenging season.
Being prepared and aware is a basic rule for extremes in weather. For Orange County the current extreme is the heat. Children and infants, the elderly, those with high blood pressure, outdoor laborers, athletes and pets are the most at risk to suffer harm from the heat wave that is plaguing the area.
“With the rising temperatures in our area it is important to know how to protect yourself from the heat. Dehydration and heat exhaustion are very common this time of year, and it can happen to anyone,” said nurse practitioner Stephanie Hayden. “Drink plenty of fluids (water being the most important), take frequent breaks, and stay in the shade as much as possible if working or spending a lot of time outdoors. Planning outdoor projects early in the morning or prior to the hottest temperatures of the day is also suggested.”
Caused by a number of things, heat exhaustion can very quickly lead to death if not treated. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is heated for a prolonged period of time. When over-heating is coupled with labor of any kind, even walking, then heat exhaustion and possibly heat stroke can occur very rapidly. The body normally generates heat as a result of metabolic rate. It also usually is able to dissipate heat by releasing it through the skin or by sweating as a means of evaporation. However as temperatures rise to 90*F or higher accompanied by high humidity and or vigorous physical exertion, the body’s ability to function by reducing heat normally is greatly inhibited allowing the body’s temperature, that is 98.6* F in most humans , to reach 106 F or even higher. When untreated, hyperthermia causes a multiple organ shut down and death can follow very quickly.
“Knowing the symptoms of heat exhaustion can help prevent injury and heat stroke. These symptoms can include: extreme fatigue and lethargy, agitation, weakness, headaches, intense thirst, profuse sweating, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, increased heart rate, low blood pressure,” said Hayden. “If you experience any of these symptoms take a break in a cool area and if no improvement after 20 to 30 minutes seek immediate help.”
If the condition progresses, there may also be bouts of delirium or hallucination, vomiting and seizure.
Preventing heat exhaustion is easier than dealing with the potential harm that it can bring to an individual. Hayden offers these tips: “Dress in loose fitting, light clothing that is breathable, avoid dark colors that absorb heat, and do not soak your clothing with water when you are hot. Other suggestions include wearing hats to shade your face from the sun, long sleeves that are made from lightweight material, and applying frequent sunscreen (with high spf) to prevent sunburns.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends the following precautions:
• Take extra precautions with certain medications. Several medications can affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated. These include medications that narrow your blood vessels (vasoconstrictors), regulate your blood pressure by blocking adrenaline (beta blockers), rid your body of sodium and water (diuretics), reduce psychiatric symptoms (antidepressants or antipsychotics), or drugs that act as stimulants (amphetamines and cocaine).
• Avoid being inside a hot car. When parked in the sun, the temperature in your car can rise 20 F (more than 11 C) in just 10 minutes. Never leave children or anyone else in a parked car in hot weather for any period of time.
Additional tips from other sources recommend that if you know that you’ll be in extreme heat or humidity, be sure that you have eaten salt as that will help prevent loss of fluids in a short period of time. This is not suggested for those with sodium restricted diets or those on diuretics however.
If you suspect heat exhaustion or worse take steps immediately to begin a cool down process. Do call 911 then move victim to the coolest place possible. Removal of clothing is suggested. Spray with a mist or hose. Fan the victim to increase evaporation. Placing the person in cold water is a quick and effective method, placing cool rags or ice packs around the neck, armpits and groin area is another as these are points of access to large blood vessels moving larger amounts of blood. This can include placing feet in cold water as well. Hydrate with icy beverage or water if the person is able to drink and keep fluids down. Avoid alcohol and drinks with caffeine as these tend to lead to dehydration.
Monitor the body temperature with a thermometer if possible while waiting for medical help. If it gets to 102 to 101 or the person begins to shiver stop the cooling process as shivering is a natural warming process the body will do and avoiding it is necessary until medical help arrives.
For parents of students who may be involved in cheer or band camps with outdoor activities or athletic events over the summer, discuss these issues with the directors and coaches prior to allowing your child to participate. It is important to educate your children as well. A proactive approach is better than the alternative. Never assume someone else will know the methods of prevention or symptoms.
Consequently, keep the same thing in mind for pets. Animals tend to have higher body temperatures and different physiological ways of self-cooling.
“Shade is the key thing, they’ve gotta have someplace they can stay out of the heat. Their water needs to be kept in the shade and they need fresh water every day. Water out in the sun gets too hot and they can’t drink it,” said local veternarian Albert Pugh IV.
“The other thing to be really careful for with the dogs in the yard is some people turn the water hose on and think you’re going to cool them off with that water. If it’s been sitting in the hose it can actually cause some second and third degree burns. It can be that scolding hot. If your going to spray the dogs with the water hose, make sure of the temperature, that it is cool.”
Limit their activity during high heat times of day and, if possible, give them access to an indoor area. Consider contacting your vet for specifics for each type of pet you have. Dogs may play in a baby pool, while rabbits will enjoy a two liter bottle of water frozen and set in their pens. Some animals even can get sunburned. The National Humane Society indicates the following are signs of heatstroke are: heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat, restlessness, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, and unconsciousness.
For those traveling with animals this summer, Dr. Pugh says to take water with them. “When they do stop to walk the dog, try to get them to drink. Don’t think they can stop and go into a restaurant and leave the dog in the car, because they will come back to a dead dog. If they are going to stop and eat, they need to do fast food or stop at some picnic area so they can eat and let the dog out.”
Dr. Pugh also says when traveling with pets to make sure you have a microchip in them incase they get loose or away from you when you stop to walk the dog.
In a few critical moments in our extreme above average temperatures, a child, a construction worker or an elderly neighbor working in her flower bed or your favorite pet can become a victim. Making this a fun, safe Summer takes a little knowledge, a little communication and a lot of water. Keep it in mind. Southeast Texas will cool off again in October – maybe.