Between the months of June and August, average high temperatures in Texas enter the danger zone and exceed 90-degrees Fahrenheit, and with that comes the risk of having a heat stroke. While most people think of Texas as a place where warm weather is a constant, residents and visitors to the state can actually experience a fairly wide range of temperatures throughout the year. Like many other places across the United States and around the world, the winter months are relatively mild and provide average high temperatures in the 50 to 60-degree range. It is during the summer months that the Texas weather actually matches reality. That summer danger is an ever-present concern in Texas and something that everyone who lives in or visits the state needs to be aware of.
Heatstroke versus Heat Exhaustion
Many people fail to grasp the danger behind a heatstroke. In fact, there are many who confuse this with another common condition, heat exhaustion, and that can cause them to ignore many of the most obvious signs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heat exhaustion is typified by weakness, profuse sweating, erratic pulse, dizziness and nausea, and cooler than normal skin. Heatstroke, on the other hand, is a direr condition that involves more severe symptoms such as a body temperature rising above 103 degrees, a very rapid pulse, hot and often reddened skin, and potential loss of consciousness. Heat exhaustion can make you ill and uncomfortable and may require medical help. But a heat stroke can quickly turn fatal.
How Prevalent Is This Danger?
Despite widespread efforts to educate the public, heat-related illnesses and deaths still occur across the state each year. A look at just one county in Texas offers a snapshot of just how dangerous this phenomenon can be. In the 2018 Dallas County Health and Human Services Heat-Related Illness Surveillance Report, the county documented the following heat-related statistics in that county alone over the course of the summer (April – August):
- 196 reported cases of heat cramps
- 333 reported incidents of heat exhaustion
- 66 reports of heat stroke
- 3 heat-related fatalities
Even when death does not occur, the impact of high temperatures is felt in other areas of life as well. For example back in 2006, the second hottest year on record, there were a total of 3,100 American workers who missed time from work due to illnesses related to heat stress and exhaustion. Those illnesses and time away from work come with a cost that can total many millions of dollars in lost wages and productivity.
Groups Most at Risk
The Texas Heart Institute notes that heat exhaustion is a phenomenon that typically afflicts those who fail to drink enough liquid while they are exposed to high temperatures. The condition most commonly affects children, older people, patients suffering from hypertension, and athletes or workers in high-temperature environments. Even pets can suffer from heatstroke and require immediate medical attention when symptoms first appear.
For some time, football was considered to be among the most dangerous of sports where high temperatures are concerned. In fact, between the years 1995 and 2009, a total of 31 football players died from heatstroke. Since that time, greater awareness and a renewed emphasis on player safety have given some a sense of security about the issue, but most experts remain concerned about the increased risk that fully-uniformed players face when competing in warm temperature environments.
Public Efforts to Address the Problem
The Texas Department of Insurance is just one agency in the state of Texas attempting to deal with the ongoing epidemic of heat-related illnesses and death. As part of its campaign to help employers reduce the rate of heat exhaustion and stroke in the workplace, the Division of Workers’ Compensation provides companies with information designed to raise awareness on the issue and help better protect employees. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) offers similar guidance at the national level, with a variety of educational resources and training that employers and employees can use.
What You Can Do
The good news is that most heatstroke and exhaustion is preventable if the proper precautions are taken. Treatment varies depending upon the severity of the illness.
Heat cramps are the first sign that heat exhaustion is imminent and usually involve the leg and stomach muscles. Rest and hydration are usually all that is needed to recover.
With heat exhaustion, immediate treatment is necessary to avoid further complications. The victim should be moved to a cool location and be provided with water. If vomiting occurs, or the patient loses consciousness, seek professional medical attention.
Heatstroke involves an effective shutdown of the body’s ability to regulate heat. When it occurs, medical help should be called in immediately. While waiting for help to arrive, it is important to remove the victim to a cool location and take steps to reduce core body temperature by applying water-soaked towels to the body. Conscious victims should consume water in small amounts.
The good news for patients suffering from heat-related trauma is that the worst effects of heat exhaustion and stroke can usually be avoided through a combination of increased awareness of temperature and avoidance of overexertion in high heat environments.
When the heat gets the better of you, stay out of danger and never hesitate to seek the medical attention you need.