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Understanding Heat Emergencies

When you live in a hot climate like Dallas, TX, you need to be aware of heat emergencies and know what to do when your or someone you know is overcome by the heat. Whether you’re working, playing or simply going about your normal routine outside and you get too hot, your body can quickly develop problems.

According to the American Red Cross, in recent years excessive heat has caused more deaths than all other weather-related incidents combined, including floods.

Here are the 3 stages of heat emergencies and what to do about them:

  1. Heat cramps – the first thing you may notice is muscle tightening or cramping from the heat. If you’re busy working, you may not pay attention to this first indicator that you’re getting too hot. Children, older adults, sick people and obese people are more susceptible to cramps and should take care to drink plenty of water and cool off frequently.
  1. Heat exhaustion – at this stage, you may still notice muscle cramps but also symptoms such as: dizziness, headache, confusion, irritability, racing heartbeat, extreme thirst, rapid breathing, sweating, cool and pale skin, nausea and vomiting, and dark urine.
  1. Heatstroke – the final and most severe stage is life-threatening. The symptoms of heatstroke include: fever, irrational behavior, confusion, rapid and shallow breathing, dry & hot skin, racing heartbeat/weak pulse, seizures and loss of consciousness.

What should I do for each kind of heat emergency?

“For heat cramps, the patient should get to a cool place, sit down and drink plenty of water,” said Advance ER physician Dr. Alan Dennington. “For heat exhaustion, the patient should also get to a cool place and drink water. The activity that caused the overheating should be stopped. That person needs to rest and recover for the rest of the day. You can bring the person in to Advance ER for an IV to help his or her body recover faster.”

Heatstroke is extremely serious and you should dial 911 or come in to Advance ER immediately. Without prompt medical help, that person could die,” said Dr. Dennington. “If you are not sure if it is heat exhaustion or heat stroke, get to the ER immediately and let us make a diagnosis and treat the person.”

How can I prevent a heat emergency?

Here are some tips for dealing with heat waves without becoming overheated:

  • Drink water constantly, even when not thirsty.
  • Avoid alcohol, coffee and caffeinated drinks.
  • Wear light cotton clothing that is loose and light in color and a lightweight hat.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible. If you have to work outside, make sure someone is around who can help you if you get sick.
  • Eat smaller meals more frequently.
  • Rest frequently and cool off.
  • Cool the car off before driving.
  • Check on children, pets and elderly neighbors who might be at risk during a heatwave.

“It’s important to be aware of not only how hot and dehydrated you are getting, but of others around you during these hot days,” said Dr. Dennington. “If you can, make sure older adults and children are being taken care of properly. And make sure children and pets are never left in cars.”

But even with careful prevention, heat emergencies can happen when the heat index is high and humidity is present. When heat exhaustion or heat stroke happens, a fast trip to the nearest ER is the right action to take.

Advance ER – the right care in the right place at the right time.

Advance ER is available in two locations for your convenience:
Advance ER – Galleria Area

12338 Inwood Road Dallas, TX 75244

Advance ER – Park Cities

5201 W Lovers Lane Dallas, TX 75209

Meet Dr. James Alan Dennington:

James Alan Dennington, M.D., is board-certified in emergency medicine. He received his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, Dallas, TX. He specializes in emergency medicine including wound care and closure. Dr. Dennington has been providing quality medical care for a decade for patients of all ages.