Heat Exhaustion: Who’s at highest risk, symptoms to watch out for, and how to know when to get medical help

Heat Exhaustion: Who’s at the highest risk for it, symptoms to watch out for, and how to know when to get medical help (Copyright 2024 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

HOUSTON – Following Monday’s deadly hurricane that ravaged the Houston area, our residents are now faced with another pressing and dangerous matter.

According to our KPRC 2 meteorologists, this week will be a hot one with temperatures climbing to the mid to upper 90s

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Not only that, but the storm that blew through also took many people’s power and electricity with it.

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This means hundreds of thousands of people in the Greater Houston region are left to figure out life-threatening situations like how to pay for groceries and how to stay cool during this blistering heat.

Back in 2023, there were six deaths and more than 1,400 heat-related illnesses reported, all before August, according to the Houston Health Department.

Last year, we spoke with the Chief Medical Officer of the City of Houston, Dr. David Persse, to discuss how to keep heat-related illnesses at bay.

Here are some of his suggestions:

What are your top heat safety suggestions 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 air-conditioned 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 has released a list of locations for people without air conditioning to seek relief while power is being restored.

People who need transportation to a cooling center can contact 3-1-1 and request a free ride.

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

Heat exhaustion 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.

The danger begins with heat exhaustion which, if left untreated, 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 illnesses 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.

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About the Authors

Moriah Ballard joined the KPRC 2 digital team in the fall of 2021. Prior to becoming a digital content producer in Southeast Texas and a Houstonian, Moriah was an award-winning radio host in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio, and previously worked as a producer/content creator in Cleveland. Her faith, family, and community are her top passions.

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