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Heat-Related Illness: Why You Can't Take The Sun For Granted

During high heat, it's important to stay hydrated. Drinking 16 to 18 ounces of water is helpful.

Summer heat in Texas at or near 100 degrees is uncomfortable, but also dangerous if you’re not careful. An emergency medicine physician warns not to take the heat for granted.

Dr. Glenn Hardesty with Texas Health Plano and Prosper says conditions for heat stroke or heat exhaustion can occur anywhere: outside, at work, even from home.

"If patients would lose power in their house, the temperature can get 90-plus pretty quick," says Hardesty. "You also might find people up in the attic trying to repair things. Temperatures up in the attic can exceed that of the home by at least 20 to 30 degrees."

Hardesty offers four tips for avoiding heat related problems:

  1. Drink more water than you think you should. Almost double your normal intake.
  2. Be mindful of the environment and mindful of the heat index.
  3. Be aware of any medical conditions you have or medications you might be taking that could impact your exposure to the heat.
  4. And if you have an occupation that puts you in that exposed area – firefighter, police officer or any job of that nature - take breaks on a regular cycle and stay hydrated.


People underestimate the heat: "Some people are very sensitive to it and recognize it early. Others try and push past the point where your body's telling you, 'Hey you need to slow down here.' When you get into temperatures 120, 130 degrees as you might have in an attic space or an enclosed space your body loses water almost quicker than you can drink depending upon the heat and the humidity in the atmosphere."

Good hydration: "It's usually a good idea to put back twice what you think you're losing. Depending upon the temperature, and the ambient temperature if you're in a very hot environment that doesn't have a breeze, you should be drinking at least 16-18 ounces an hour and that's probably very conservative. I would probably almost double that."

Alternatives to water: "There are electrolyte rehydration solutions out there. What you see are a lot of the sports drinks, but the sugar content is actually higher than recommended and it can actually dehydrate you because the sugar content causes you tend to expel more water and cause you to urinate more. Stick to water — or if you do use a electrolyte solution or sports drink, I might dilute it one to one with water."

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion: "Heat exhaustion is where your body is starting to get hot but it can still compensate for the temperature. When you get to heat stroke, that's where your body has lost its ability to auto-regulate or take maintain a normal temperature. Generally, when patients stop sweating in a hot environment, that's when you know you're making that transition from heat exhaustion to heat stroke."

Be mindful of medications: "Some can affect your ability to cool or can affect your exposure to sun. The classic that comes to mind are antibiotics. They cause something called photo sensitivity reaction, meaning it just makes you more sensitive to sunlight. It amplifies the effect of sunlight for sunburns. Some blood pressure medications might be an issue. Some are called diuretics and they make you urinate. And so those can actually make you a little dehydrated."


Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness

Occupational Heat Exposure

Medicines can increase risk of heat stroke

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.