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Stay safe in the Texas heat with these tips

Nicole Villalpando
nvillalpando@statesman.com
Mario Mata grabs some water during a run at Auditorium Shores in 2017. Avoid exercising midday if possible, but definitely stay hydrated if you do. [AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2017]

As Texans, we might think we've got this heat thing handled. Of course it's hot. It's Texas. But the effects of heat can sneak up on us and turn deadly.

We asked Austin doctors for their advice on how to stay safe as the temperatures head north of the 90s.

Who is most in danger when it comes to heat?

Doctors especially worry about the very young and the very old. Kids younger than 3 haven't yet developed control over the vessels in their skin to regulate body temperature and cool themselves down by sweating. Babies younger than 6 months should avoid being in direct sunlight. The very old lose the ability to vasodilate those vessels to cool themselves down.

Know the warning signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke

Most of what emergency room doctors see are people experiencing heatstroke or heat exhaustion. 

Heat exhaustion can come with these symptoms:

• Profuse sweating

• Extreme fatigue

• Feeling like you could pass out

• Muscle cramps or spasms

• Abdominal cramps

• Headache

• Dizziness

• Nausea

• Irritability

Heat exhaustion is treated by actively cooling the body by getting out of the heat or at least sitting in the shade, drinking water and misting or immersing the body in cold water.

With heat exhaustion, you are still sweating, you know where you are and you can get yourself to a cooler spot. Because heat exhaustion can cause an acute injury to the kidneys from dehydration, doctors will check kidney function if someone comes to them with heat exhaustion.

Heatstroke is different. It can come with these symptoms:

• Sweating suddenly stops after profuse sweating

• The skin feels dry and hot to the touch

• Confusion

• Kidney failure

• Heart attack or stroke

• Seizures

• A temperature of 105 or over

Someone who is experiencing these symptoms needs a bystander to call 911 and to be immediately immersed in cold water or ice or soaked with a hose to cool them down rapidly. If you can't do any of these things, try putting ice under the armpits and in the groin area, or mist them and then put them under a fan. They cannot do these things for themselves because of their altered state.

Death is the ultimate danger of heatstroke. Other dangers include lasting damage to organs, especially the kidneys, and the muscles, including the heart.

Plan your day around the heat

Check the heat index for the day on the National Weather Service website. That's the outdoor temperature with the humidity considered. Our temperature might say it's 90 degrees, but the heat index might make it feel like 95 degrees because of that humidity.

Try not to be out in the sun for an extended period of time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you like to exercise outside, try doing it early in the morning or late at night.

RELATED: Keep kids cool at recess, band and football practice

Wear the right clothes

Remember that heat index? Well, your clothing can add humidity or reduce the amount of humidity you feel based on whether or not it wicks moisture away from your body. Materials like polyesters that don't breathe or wick keep your body's sweat on your skin, making you feel hotter. Natural fibers like cotton or fibers that are made to wick like exercise clothing don't allow the sweat to be trapped. Cotton also gives you breathability.

Given a choice, chose lighter-colored clothing to reflect rather than absorb the sun's rays.

Wear a hat to keep the sun off your face.

Avoid a sunburn

Wear sunscreen and sun-protective clothing. When you have a sunburn, your skin loses the ability to regulate temperature because it affects the body's ability to contain and maintain fluids properly. You'll dehydrate faster with a sunburn.

RELATED: A guide to sun protection

Keep hydrated

This is really the most important thing to do to deal with the heat. How much water should you drink? There isn't a magic number of ounces, but there are a lot of indicators that point to good hydration instead of dehydration. It's mostly about the urine. Follow these parameters:

• Urine should be fairly clear.

• Urine should not have a strong odor.

• You should need to urinate at the same rate as you normally do.

• A warning sign is if you haven't urinated in the last two to three hours.

• You should not be thirsty. If you are, drink.

What should you drink?

Water, water, water. Push water.

If you're really working out a lot in the heat, you might want to rethink the time of day. But if you have to be out there doing strenuous activity (hello, band camp, football camp, outdoor jobs, etc.), drink a water with electrolytes in it. Try to avoid the water with electrolytes in it that has a lot of sugar like Gatorade and go for something like Propel instead.

Avoid alcohol. Alcohol makes it harder for the body to do what it needs to do to cool you down.

Caffeine also does not equal hydration. In fact, caffeine like the kind in coffee, tea and sodas actually dehydrates you.

To maintain hydration, drink a large glass of water before going outside. Then drink sips of water throughout the day. The more strenuous the activity or the more sweating you are doing, the more water you need.

Seek shade and other cool tips

Given the choice between putting that picnic blanket in the sun or the shade, always choose the shade. Even if you have to be in the sun, take frequent breaks to cool yourself down and drink some water.

Other tricks: Bring a portable hand-held misting fan with you to cool you off. We also love to pack ice packs or wet washcloths in the freezer the night before. Then we keep them in a cooler during outside play and bring them out during breaks to lower body temperature.

Sources: Dr. Lisa Gaw, pediatrician and director at Texas Children’s Urgent Care Westgate; Dr. Ryan McCorkle, emergency room doctor at St. David's Medical Center; Dr. Christopher Ziebell, emergency department medical director at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas.

RELATED: Maintain your air conditioner to keep cool all summer