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Understanding and Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses Crucial as Summer Heat Arrives

The summer heat has arrived, bringing with it the need to understand and prevent heat-related illnesses, according to CHRISTUS Health. There are four main types of heat-related illnesses: heat rash, cramps, heat exhaustion, and the most severe, heat stroke. Last year, the U.S. saw nearly 2,500 heat-related deaths, reported the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

"It does not take long for your body to feel the effects of the Texas heat," said Julie Sperling, trauma prevention coordinator at CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances. "It is vital that you prepare your body to be in the heat, take adequate precautions, and recover properly."

Sperling emphasized that hydration is key before, during, and after any heat-related activities. She advised focusing on water and sports drinks while avoiding alcohol and caffeinated drinks like soda. Other recommendations include avoiding outdoor activities during peak heat hours, wearing loose-fitting clothes, seeking shelter in shaded areas, taking frequent breaks, and working with a partner.

"Having a partner, a 'buddy' with you, can be vital in recognizing the signs of distress," Sperling said. "Oftentimes the symptoms of a heat-related illness can be observed by others before we notice it ourselves."

Symptoms of a heat-related illness include heat rash, cramping, confusion, inability to sweat, seizures, dizziness or fainting, slurred speech, hallucinations, altered mental status, confusion, aggression, or agitation. Anyone exhibiting these signs should stop their activity, attempt to cool the body immediately, and seek medical attention.

Jim Rapp, director of the CHRISTUS Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Institute, highlighted the importance of monitoring weight loss after outdoor activities. Without adequate hydration, weight loss can continue, significantly increasing the risk of serious heat-related illnesses.

"You cannot lose body fat at nearly the same rate," Rapp said. "Intentional weight loss through diet and exercise should be cautioned in high heat and humidity because people can be fooled into thinking they are losing body fat when they are actually losing water and putting themselves at risk for injury."

Both Rapp and Sperling also encourage people to check on those with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly, and those without adequate cooling devices in their homes.

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