People living in southeast Texas are no stranger to high temperatures and humidity during the summer months. Residents should be aware of how to deal with extreme heat. Humans have a line of defense in dealing with summer heat: sweating. As air becomes moist, (high relative humidity) the evaporation of sweat, which is what cools your body down, can’t happen as fast, and your body can’t cool itself as quickly. When our bodies can’t cool themselves fast enough, body temperature, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can occur.
People living in Houston should pay attention to the “Heat Index.” This was created to help individuals realize just how hot it is, and what the effect of some atmospheric conditions such as dew point and humidity could have on the body. The heat index will tell you “how hot it feels.”
Know the Signs of Heat-Related Illness and Take Action
Every year, people die across the country due to heat-related illness, know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke and take action to stay safe.
The Houston Health Department (HHD) recommends people take precautions against high heat and humidity to prevent illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
To prevent heat-related illnesses:
- Increase water consumption. Drink lots of liquids even before getting thirsty, but avoid those with caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar because these can actually result in the loss of body fluid.
- Conduct outdoor work or exercise in the early morning or evening when it is cooler. Outdoor workers should drink plenty of water or electrolyte-replacement beverages and take frequent breaks in the shade or in an air-conditioned facility. Those unaccustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment need to start slowly and gradually increase heat exposure over several weeks.
- Check on the elderly. Take the initiative to visit seniors to look for signs of heat-related illnesses. It takes the elderly nearly twice the time of younger people to return to core body temperature after exposure to extreme temperatures. A phone call to the frail elderly is not sufficient to determine the condition of the senior or the home.
- Wear light-colored, loose fitting clothing that permits the evaporation of perspiration.
- Do not leave children, senior citizens or pets unattended in a vehicle.
- A wide-brimmed hat helps prevent sunburn as well as heat-related illness. Sunscreen also protects from the sun’s harmful rays and reduces the risk of sunburn.
- If the house is not air-conditioned, seek accommodations in air-conditioned facilities during the heat of the day: malls, movie theaters, libraries, etc.
- Take frequent cool baths or showers if your home is not air-conditioned.
- Electric fans should only be used in conjunction with an air conditioner. A fan can’t change the temperature of a room; it can only accelerate air movement, and will accelerate the body’s overheating.
Remember children, the elderly and people with chronic ailments are most at risk during periods of extreme heat.
Also, don’t forget your pets can succumb to the effects of excessive heat. Ensure they have plenty of drinking water and a shady place to rest.
The City may activate Cooling Centers to help those residents who may not have adequate air conditioning to stay safe when temperatures are high. The centers, usually housed at libraries, recreation centers, multi-service centers and other facilities that are open to the public, are available during their normal business hours. If extreme heat occurs over the weekend, hours at some facilities may be extended.
When the City’s Heat Plan is in effect, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Houston/Harris County (METRO) will provide transportation free of charge to designated cooling centers for individuals who need them. Residents who need transportation can call 311 (713.837.0311) to request service.
Please note that the heat plan must be in effect for residents to take advantage of this service. To check the current status of the heat plan, visit houstonemergency.org.