How to keep heat-related illnesses at bay in triple-digit heat

Our current August summer forecast has many days surpassing 100 degrees.

The Houston Health Department reports six deaths and more than 1,400 heat related illnesses treated at local emergency rooms so far this summer.

Dr. David Persse, the Chief Medical Officer with the City of Houston joined KPRC 2+ at 7 to discuss how to keep heat-related illnesses at bay.

Here are some of his tips:

What are your top heat safety tips that our viewers need to remember?

  • Drink more water. Drink lots of liquids even before getting thirsty, but avoid those with caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar because these can result in the loss of body fluid. Water is your best bet.
  • Conduct outdoor work or exercise in the early morning or evening when it is cooler. Outdoor workers should drink plenty of water or electrolyte replacement beverages and take frequent breaks in the shade or in an airconditioned facility. Those unaccustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment need to start slowly and gradually increase heat exposure over several weeks.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that permits the evaporation of perspiration.
  • Do not leave children, senior citizens or pets unattended in a vehicle.
  • Use a wide-brimmed hat to help prevent sunburn as well as heat-related illness. Sunscreen also protects from the sun’s harmful rays and reduces the risk of sunburn.
  • Seek air-conditioned facilities during the heat of the day if a home is not air-conditioned: multi-service centers, malls, movie theaters, libraries, etc.
  • Take frequent cool baths or showers if your home is not air-conditioned.
  • Stay alert to heat advisories. The National Weather Service declares a Heat Emergency when the heat index, a computation of the air temperature and humidity, reaches 108 degrees on two or more consecutive days. A heat index of 108 is a potential health threat for all people and is particularly dangerous for high-risk groups.

Where can people lacking air conditioning in their homes find refuge from the heat?

The City of Houston re-activated its Public Health Heat Emergency Plan last week to help people needing to take refuge from the heat. That means City of Houston libraries and multi-service centers serve as cooling centers during their normal business hours weekdays and Saturdays. The health department opens multi service centers on Sunday. Also, community centers operated by Houston Parks and Recreation Department will open to the public after the conclusion of daily programming.

What can people do if they have no way of getting to a cooling center?

People without adequate transportation to a designated cooling center during this heat emergency can call 311 to request a free ride. Transportation is only to and from the city cooling centers; transportation to other locations is unavailable.

Which heat-related illnesses put people at risk of losing their lives?

Heat exhaustion, usually associated with heavy activity, is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt contained in sweat. Signs include profuse sweating, paleness, muscle cramps weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, a weak-but-rapid pulse and fainting. The skin may be cool and moist. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke.

Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the perspiration system fails and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

Heat stroke symptoms include an extremely high body temperature (above 103°F, orally), red, hot and dry skin (no sweating), rapid and strong pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and unconsciousness.

Why are the elderly particularly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses?

High body temperatures can lead to damage to the brain or other vital organs and even death. The problem is that it takes the elderly twice as long as a young person to return to core body temperatures after being exposed to extremely high temperatures. That’s why it is important for all of us to take the initiative to check on elderly relatives, friends and neighbors to check if they are not suffering due to the sweltering heat.

What other groups are also at high risk?

Other vulnerable people are children under the age of 4, people with chronic illness or who are either overweight or on certain medications should stay inside air-conditioned buildings between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., the hottest part of the day.

Watch his interview for more.