HARLINGEN & BROWNSVILLE – While much of the United States was gripped by a short heatwave last week, south Texas residents know that there’s no end in sight when it comes to summer’s grueling temperatures.
With those high temperatures and humidity being common in the Rio Grande Valley through October, local residents should continue to take precautions against heatstroke when spending an extended amount of time outdoors, said Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen internal medicine physician Dr. Christopher Romero.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heatstroke can be described as “the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down.”
With a wide variety of symptoms, Romero said local residents should closely monitor how they feel as they spend time outside as summer drags on, adding that heatstroke is especially dangerous because if left untreated, it can lead to organ failure and even death.
“Some of the signs are dizziness, weakness, confusion, nausea and vomiting. Patients may develop a high heart rate, begin breathing fast, and have low blood pressure.
Depending on the patient and their health conditions they may have increased sweating and appear red or flushed; however some patients will become pale and have dry skin with heatstroke. Depending on how much water someone has been drinking they may or may not notice they are urinating less than normal,” he said. “An elevated temperature or fever is a major red flag. If someone has been exposed to the heat and develops these symptoms it is important to seek medical care right away.”
Romero said that while some people, including children, the elderly, outdoor laborers, and athletes are more susceptible to heatstroke, anyone exerting themselves for an extended period of time outside in high temperatures and humidity should be cautious.
“There are two type of heatstroke. Classic heatstroke tends to happen when we have very hot weather and children, the elderly, and people with health problems are at highest risk,” he said. “The second type is called exertional heatstroke. Exertional heatstroke can occur in anybody that works very hard in warm weather or conditions. This tends to happen in athletes training in the heat, farm workers, or those that work in the heat.”
Because completely avoiding strenuous activity in high temperatures is unlikely, there are precautions that local residents can take to reduce their risk of heatstroke, Romero said.
“People can reduce their risk of heatstroke by staying in air-conditioned buildings during our heatwaves, especially those with health problems, the elderly, and children,” he said.
“If people have to be exposed to the heat, they should avoid the hottest parts of the day, make sure they don’t over-exert themselves, drink plenty of fluids, and take frequent breaks. We all can help prevent heatstroke by being aware of the risk, and check in on elderly or sick family and neighbors in our summer heat waves to make sure they are OK.”
For those who suspect they may be suffering from the initial symptoms of heatstroke, Romero said the best remedy is to cease all physical activity and get out of the sun immediately.
“Applying a cool, wet cloth to the skin and fanning the victim can help. If they are awake and not confused, have them start drinking cool water slowly,” he said. “If someone is concerned that they have heatstroke, they should seek medical care. If they are confused, vomiting, or pass out call 911.”
As the long South Texas summer drags on, local residents may seek respite from the heat with trips to the beach or pool. While such outings are often fun for the whole family, there can be dangers associated with children being unsupervised around water.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, there are an estimated 3,960fatal unintentional drownings each year, and drowning is one of the leading causes of injury-related deaths for children aged 1 to 4 years old. While not all water-related incidents are fatal, many still require emergency medical care. More than 30,000 water-related injuries require emergency medical care annually, with many of those children requiring additional hospitalization.
Dr. Dane Moran, an Emergency Medicine physician at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville, has seen the tragedy associated with water-related injuries first hand and urges local parents to supervise their children during water-related activities.
“It is important that children have adult supervision at all times while engaging in any water activity. Every year we see cases of young children drowning because parents were distracted or stepped away for a second,” he said. “Even in shallow water it is important that children be supervised because they can still fall and get submerged.”
In addition to careful supervision, Moran said parents can help guard against serious water-related injuries by learning basic life support skills such as CPR.
“If you witness a child that appears to be drowning, they need to be rescued from the water as quickly as possible. The first thing to check is if they are awake and responding. If not, call for help and quickly spend a few seconds (less than 10) to check to see if they are breathing and if they have a pulse,” he said. “If they have a slow or absent pulse, begin chest compressions. High quality early chest compressions can save a child’s life following a drowning incident, so it is really important that everyone, especially parents, are trained how to do this skill properly. You can learn more by participating in a basic life support course.”
For more information on learning basic life support skills, visit the American Heart Association at www.heart.org, or the American Red Cross at www.redcross.org.