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Special to The Dallas Examiner

While summer officially begins this week, Texas summer temperatures are already here. The sun is shining, the temperatures are high, and vacationers are taking full advantage of a myriad of outdoor activities. And even though the Metroplex averages 18 100-degree days a year, Parkland Health physicians warn that heat exhaustion can be deadly even if temperatures don’t hit the century mark.

A combination of high humidity and temperatures in the 90s can have the same effect as triple-digit days, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Exposure to extreme heat can result in illnesses and injuries, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat-related rashes.

In 2022, Parkland Memorial Hospital saw 36 patients with heat-related complaints in its emergency department. Over the last decade, 220 individuals were treated for illnesses related to prolonged exposure to the heat.

“When you’re out having fun with friends and family, with the exception of a sunburn most people don’t think about the effects that heat is having on your body,” said Jeffery Metzger, MD, chief of Emergency Services at Parkland and associate professor of Emergency Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses before the situation becomes critical.”

Heat exhaustion occurs when people are exposed to high temperatures, especially when combined with strenuous physical activity and humidity, and when the body loses fluids and becomes dehydrated. When heat exhaustion elevates, it may result in heat stroke, a life-threatening medical condition occurring when the body’s cooling system, which is controlled by the brain, stops working. The resulting high body temperature causes damage to internal organs, including the brain, and could result in death.

“Heat stroke, which is the most serious heat-related disorder, is especially dangerous,” Metzger said. “It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature – the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down.”

When heat stroke occurs, body temperature can rise to 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability without emergency treatment.

The CDC offered several tips on what to look for and what to do for heat-related illnesses:

Heat Exhaustion

Look for:

• Heavy sweating, cold, pale and clammy skin

• Fast, weak pulse

• Nausea or vomiting

• Muscle cramps

• Fatigue or weakness, dizziness, headache

• Fainting

What to do:

• Move to a cool place and loosen clothes

• Put cool, wet cloths on the body or take a cool bath

• Sip water

Get medical help right away if:

• You are throwing up

• Your symptoms get worse

• Your symptoms last longer than one hour

Heat Stroke

Look for:

• Hot, red, dry or damp skin

• Fast, strong pulse

• Headache, dizziness, nausea and confusion

• Losing consciousness

What to do:

• Call 911 right away – heat stroke is a medical emergency

• Move the person to a cooler place

• Help lower the person’s temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath

• Do not give the person anything to drink

“The bottom line is that heat-related illnesses are preventable,” Metzger said. “Listening to your body is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from potential danger.”

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