As most people who live in Houston can attest to, the upcoming summer months won’t be getting particularly cooler any time soon. That means plenty of chances for sunburn, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke.
Heat related illnesses are caused primarily by two factors, says Shilipa Pankaj, a pediatrician affialiated with Memorial Hermann Northwest Hospital who operates out of Peekaboo Pediatrics, located at 1740 West 27th St. These factors include an increase in environmental heat and the inability of the body to properly dissipate heat.
“When you get both of those, you end up with conditions like heat exhaustion or heat stroke,” Pankaj said.
In places like Houston, where there is high humidity throughout the year, Pankaj said our region’s environment can complicate our body’s ability to cool itself.
“Our usual way of dissipating heat is by sweating,” Pankaj said. “During high levels of humidity, that water does not evaporate properly off of our skin. This happens particularly when the temperature of the environment is greater than 95 degrees or humidity is at 75 percent or greater.”
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include elevated heart rate, intense sweating, confusion, nausea, headaches and fatigue, Pankaj said.
“In extreme cases you can faint and lose consciousness,” Pankaj said. “If you have any neurological symptoms, you have to seek medical care immediately.”
For youngsters who may be enjoying activities outside like summer league sports, Pankaj said parents and groups should schedule practices and games earlier in the morning or in the early evening. Athletes in general are more susceptible to issues with heat, so these guidelines also apply to adults as well. However children may be in need of some extra guidance as they are at higher risk without realizing it.
“The reason is because children have higher metabolic rates,” Pankaj said. “Children absorb heat at a faster rate and they have smaller blood volume so they don’t dissipate heat as quickly as adults, nor do they sweat as much. Children are also less likely to to take breaks and re-hydrate, so it’s important to have break time to rest.”
If athletes, or others for that matter, are in a situation in which they feel they are suffering from heat exhaustion, Pankaj advises them to stop exercising immediately, remove any excess clothing and spray themselves with water. If needed, ice packs can also be placed behind the neck to help with cooling.
“One important thing is to hydrate effectively,” Pankaj said. “While it’s vital to drink water, fluids that contain salt like sports drinks can be better. A lot of times when you’re hot and sweating, you lose a lot through your sweat and drinks containing electrolytes can help prevent that.”
Athletes can also take precautions within their competitions, such as having more frequent player substitutions and ensuring shaded rest areas are accessible during games, Pankaj said. Wearing loose, light-colored single layers of clothing are important, as is wearing sunscreen. The same fundamentals applies to anyone working outside in the sun this summer.