Houstonians will tell you that hot, humid August days are nothing new. And we just LOVE our air conditioning!

When Houston was booming in the 1950s, it was reported year after year that Houston was “the air-conditioning capital of the world”. Air-conditioning quickly went from being a luxury to a necessity. Air-conditioned tunnels connect downtown buildings and the famous Astrodome was the world’s first air-conditioned stadium. Why am I not surprised?

Most of us spend the summer months hopping from one air-conditioned spot to another. We go from home, to the car, to some cool, indoor destination and repeat throughout the day. With temperatures in the 90’s (or hotter) and heat indices well above 100 some days, I have to say, it’s probably for the best!

However, one disadvantage of all this air-conditioning is that we never spend enough time in the heat for our bodies to acclimate. And let’s face it, there are some occasions (not usually by choice) we end up spending a little more time outside than we had planned. Maybe your car breaks down and you’re briefly stranded or changing a tire by the side of the road, or you’re helping a friend or family member move (college students are heading back to school right about now). Or maybe, just maybe, you’re crazy enough (like me!) to continue to exercise outdoors this time of year. Either way, prolonged exposure to the heat can be VERY dangerous and I want you to be prepared if you (or someone you’re with) is suddenly experiencing some type of heat-related illness.

When you exert yourself in hot, humid weather, your body sweats to keep cool. If this process is not efficient, the body can overheat. Heat cramps can be the initial sign of overheating. Drinking water or a sports drink can easily treat this. However, if left untreated and the heat conditions/activity continues, more severe illnesses can and will develop.

To keep this simple, I’ve listed the two most severe conditions below, along with more detailed information (thanks to the Mayo Clinic!).

*Heat Exhaustion

Signs & Symptoms:
– Nausea
– Heavy Sweating
– Muscle cramps
– Headache
– Dizziness
– Fatigue
– Rapid, weak heart rate
– Dark-colored urine
– Cool, moist skin with goose bumps in the heat

What to do:
– Cease activity and move to a shady or air-conditioned location
– Drink cool fluids (nothing with alcohol or caffeine)
– Loosen or remove clothing
– Lie down and elevate the legs and feet slightly
– Lower body temperature with fanning or with water (possibly a cool shower)
– Call 911 if the condition worsens (fainting, confusion or seizure occurs)

*Heatstroke – precedes heat exhaustion if body temperature continues to rise.

Signs & Symptoms:
– Lack of sweating
– Nausea and vomiting
– Flushed skin (skin turns red as body temp. increases)
– Racing heart rate
– Throbbing headache
– Confusion
– Unconsciousness

What to do:
– CALL 911!
– Immediately take action to cool the overheated person as you wait for emergency treatment. All of the steps listed above apply here as well (rest, move to a shady/cool place, drink cool fluids, etc.)
– If available: place ice packs or cold, wet towels on the person’s head, neck, armpits and groin
– If this is happening to you and you’re by yourself – ask someone nearby for help!

Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition. If untreated, heatstroke that can lead to damage in the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles in a period of hours. The longer treatment is delayed, the more severe the injuries. Serious complications or even death can occur.

The good news is that heat exhaustion and heatstroke are preventable! If you are outdoors on a hot, humid day, there are a few things you can do to prevent overheating.

– Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and light colored clothing.
– Drink plenty of fluids (all through the day). Staying hydrated will help your body sweat and maintain normal body temp.
– Avoid the hottest times of the day. Early morning and evening are usually the coolest times, especially if you’re exercising outdoors. The temperature will peak in the late afternoon (between 3:00-5:00pm).
– NEVER leave children or pets or anyone else in a parked car. The temp. inside your car can rise by 20 deg. in just 10 minutes.

Unfortunately, I have personally experienced heat exhaustion. While running, I suddenly felt cool and had goose bumps. Those symptoms cued me to STOP!! That is not something you expect when you’re outside in the heat. It scared me, but I am so glad that I paid attention to the signs my body was giving me.

As we all know, children and the elderly are most vulnerable to the heat. Whether you fall into that category or not, hopefully you’re a little more educated now and know how to recognize the symptoms and react when the situation arises.

Stay cool this summer, Houstonians!