With all the fantastic outdoor activities and opportunities in Houston, we simply can’t let the heat stop us. We should, however, take said heat seriously, and follow precautions so that a summer day of fun doesn’t end in the emergency room.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department knows well the dangers of hot weather. In summer 2018, TPWD staff handled 134 incidents of heat-related illnesses in humans and pets at more than 40 state park sites. The department recommends these six tips for staying safe in the heat:
- Hydrate — Drink at least 16 ounces of water every hour in the heat to replenish your body and prevent dehydration. And don’t forget your four-legged friends.
- Sun protection — Apply a generous amount before heading outdoors and reapply every couple of hours and after swimming or sweating.
- Dress smart — Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing along with a hat and correct shoes. Wet bandanas help keep you cool while in the sun.
- Stay salty — Snacks such as jerky, granola, trail mix, tuna, and dried fruit provide energy and replace salt lost from sweating.
- Be a buddy — Exercise and hit the trails with a friend or two in hot conditions and look after each other, including recognizing the early symptoms of heat-related illnesses (see below).
- Plan ahead — Let someone know your plans and expected return time, so they’ll know when and where to start looking for you. When hiking, study the map and take it with you. Hikers move at an average of two miles per hour, so allow yourself plenty of time to avoid the heat of the day. Take a break and rest in the shade to recover if necessary.
Know the signs
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, excessive sweating, cold or clammy skin, nausea or vomiting, rapid and weak pulse, and muscle cramps. The next stage is heatstroke; symptoms include throbbing headache, no sweating, hot and dry skin, nausea or vomiting, rapid and strong pulse, and change in mental state. Heatstroke is deadly. If anyone in your group has these symptoms, get into the shade immediately and call 9-1-1.
How much water?
Experts recommend drinking about 16 ounces of water one to two hours before you exercise, another 16 ounces 15 minutes prior, about 5 ounces every 10 minutes during exercise, and another 16 ounces just after exercise. The exact amount, of course, depends on your body weight, body temperature, and type of exercise, so adjust accordingly. Avoid the added sugar of energy and sports drinks unless you exercise for 90 minutes or more, and depending upon how much you sweat and the heat index.
Speaking of which, pay attention to the heat index, or what the current temperature and humidity actually feel like. For example, 90 degrees at 70 percent humidity (aka much of the Texas summer) feels like 106 degrees.
Our four-legged friends cannot cool themselves as efficiently as we humans and are at high risk for heat exhaustion or stroke, with overexertion a common cause. If your dog pants aggressively and noisily, her tongue hangs down far and spreads wide, and she feels warm, she is overheated.
A dog that staggers, throws up, falls down, or just doesn’t want to walk is likely suffering heatstroke. In either case, stop, get in the shade, and cool down his body with wet towels on his head, belly, and pads of the feet or hose her off. Be aware that dogs in heat exhaustion or stroke probably won’t drink water — if you offer water and your dog doesn’t want it, that does not necessarily mean she is fine.
Protect paws from hot surfaces by avoiding the heat of the day and using booties. If you cannot hold your hand on the pavement or ground for five seconds, it is too hot for your dog’s paws. Don’t let your dog carry anything in her mouth, either, as it interferes with her ability to pant, a major way dogs cool their body.