TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Summer in East Texas can be brutal – and dangerous.
According to information from the Tyler Fire Department, about 400 people die each year from exposure to heat due to weather conditions, and many more people die from health conditions that are made worse by exposure to excess heat.
In an effort to cut down those numbers, the Tyler Fire Department, Northeast Texas Public Health District and other public service agencies in Tyler and Smith County have released their 2019 “Heat Response Plan (PDF),” designed to provide the community with tips on avoiding heat-related injuries and illnesses.
- See the 2019 Heat Plan here.
The plan also provides resources available to the public, especially vulnerable populations like the elderly and the homeless, to avoid the heat.
The human body is engineered with a number of ways to cool itself. But, under the extreme conditions so familiar to East Texans – high temperatures coupled with high humidity that can last for what seems forever – those natural mechanisms may not always be enough.
In such cases, a person’s body temperature may rise rapidly. Very high body temperatures can cause severe damage to the brain, other vital organs and even death.
To guard against this, TFD’s Heat Plan offers some suggestions:
- Stay indoors when possible, out of the heat and in cool surroundings. Fans can be useful, but alone may not be sufficient to ward against heat illnesses and injuries once temperatures rise above 90°F with high humidity. Air conditioning remains the best defense against and refuge from the heat.
- Keep your body hydrated. Drink water. Drink a lot of water, and drink it frequently. Sports drinks can be good in moderation. But avoid alcohol, as it only worsens dehydration.
- Stay out of the sun as much as possible. If you must be outdoors, try to stay out of direct sun, wear light weight, loose fitting clothing and consume at least 5-7 oz. of water every 20 minutes.
- Check up on relatives and neighbors. The elderly and those who live in isolation are most vulnerable, especially if they don’t have air conditioning. Take a few minutes and make certain those who may have no one else are staying cool.
- Do not leave children and pets in vehicles. Heat can build up rapidly. The chart below shows just how quickly the inside of a vehicle can turn deadly:
- Related: Look before you lock: Parents, lawmakers push to prevent hot-car deaths
- Related: 11-month-old dies after being left in hot car in Missouri
So, how do you know if you or someone near you is suffering from heat exposure? The TFD Heat Plan details these signs and symptoms:
Signs & Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion:
- Heavy sweating
- Weakness & fatigue
- Cold, pale, clammy skin
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, blurred vision or fainting
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea & vomiting
- Mood changes such as irritability or confusion
Signs & Symptoms of Heat Stroke:
- Body temperature higher than 103°F
- Sweating stops and skin is hot, dry and red
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Change in mental status (confused, passed out, slurred speech, inappropriate words)
The plan includes these tips if you suspect that you or someone near you has been overcome by heat:
- Call 911 immediately
- Move to a cool shaded area or an air conditioned room
- Loosen and/or remove clothing
- Apply a water-soaked towel (or ice pack wrapped in a towel) to head and armpits
- Give a small cup of water (only if conscious and not nauseous)
The Heat Plan also includes a comprehensive listing of shelters available both day and night where people can take refuge from the heat. Among them are locations common throughout East Texas – churches, movie theaters, malls and retail outlets, local fire departments, Salvation Army or Red Cross centers and public libraries.
City swimming pools and splash pads also are a good refuge. And for those communities that have them, senior centers and recreation centers can provide an escape from the heat, as do such public facilities as the Tyler Rose Garden Center.
Some facilities, such as local Red Cross or Salvation Army centers, may offer overnight shelter. Please take the time to research such options should they be needed for you or a loved one.
The best way to remain safe in the coming summer months is to be prepared, with plenty of water and appropriate clothing on hand; be aware of temperatures, of your time spent exposed to heat, of available shelters and of people near you who may be especially vulnerable; and be informed about the signs and symptoms of heat illness, first aid treatment for such illnesses and who to call in an emergency.
Summer in East Texas can be a wonderful time for recreation, family fun and holiday outings. It can also be dangerous. But with knowledge, preparation and care, we can all get our lawns mowed, hit the lakes, the parks or just those back yard barbecues and safely enjoy the many opportunities for fun and relaxation offered in our region.