Personal Safety in High Heat

Record-setting heat is moving across Texas, putting millions of people, as well as law-enforcement and public safety professionals, at risk of heat-related illnesses and  emergencies. And as the mercury rises, conditions become dangerous for anyone working outdoors or living in a residence without air conditioning.

By Vanessa T. Willinghoff, MD
Internal Medicine-Kelsey-Seybold Clinic

As you prepare for a heatwave in our community, here are a few things to keep in mind.

PERSONAL SAFETY IN HIGH-HEAT CONDITIONS 

Physical training. Schedule any outdoor PT early in the morning or just before evening.

Get enough sleep. You don’t have to be Rip Van Winkle. If you can, try to get adequate sleep – at least seven hours for healthy adults – because you’re probably going to need it.

Stay hydrated! Thirst is the best indicator you need water. Try to stay hydrated before you feel thirsty. If you are anticipating high-exertion during outdoor activity, you need to  pre-hydrate. Bring extra water in your car or motorcycle in case you are unable to get back to the station.

Electrolyte replacement. Sports drinks are useful for replacing electrolytes during and after long durations of aerobic exercise. However, they often contain empty sugar calories you may not need. Quench your thirst with cool water, and replace electrolytes with a well-balanced diet before turning to sports or energy drinks.

Manage the scene. As conditions allow, move suspects or bystanders you are interacting with into the shade, air-conditioned vehicles, or buildings.

Enhance cooling. When the ambient air temperature is in the high 90s or 100s, passive heat loss is ineffective, so enhance cooling with misting fans, ice packs, cooling towels, or immersion.

Observe your partner’s well-being. Your human or K9 partner is also at risk when temperatures climb. Early signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke include lethargy, confusion and other personality changes. If your partner seems “off,” take a water break out of the sun and humidity, and consider additional assessment of their pulse rate, respiratory rate, mental status, and recent water consumption.

HEAT SAFETY FOR YOUR COMMUNITY 

Check on vulnerable populations. Infants, the elderly, and the homeless are especially vulnerable to heat illnesses. Some medications, as well as the aging process, also compromise an older person’s ability to thermoregulate.

Provide community education. Educate those on your beat by discussing heat-related emergency signs and symptoms, prevention, and emergency care. Advise people who lack air conditioning in their homes  as to how and where they can seek relief during extreme heat events. (Relationship building and education are always valuable.)

 

KNOW THE SYMPTOMS OF HEATSTROKE

Heatstroke victims may present various warning symptoms, usually including:

  • Headache
  • Mental confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Unconsciousness if left unmanaged

WHAT TO DO

If someone exhibits these symptoms:

  1. Get them to a shaded area or cooler environment.
  2. Moisten their skin with water.
  3. Fan them.
  4. Apply cool compresses to the neck and forehead.
  5. Call paramedics for assistance.

 

Dr. Wellinghoff is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician. Her medical honors include being listed in the Houston Modern Luxury Magazine – Medical Edition as one of the Top Doctors in Texas – 2022, being named one of Houston’s Top Doctors by the Houston Chronicle, and recognition for excellence in diabetes care by the prestigious National Committee for Quality Assurance.