JESSICA HORTON

Staff Writer

Following the apparent heatstroke death of Zachary Decatur last week in Erath County and forecasters predicting sizzling temperatures for the week, city officials are trying to keep the tragedy from repeating itself by making the public aware of the dangers of extreme heat.

“It’s not just the heat that causes heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” said Leslie Hughes, Stephenville Fire Department’s training officer, “It’s the humidity and the heat.”

Forecasters predicted Monday’s high temperature to reach 105-degrees, making it the hottest day on record since 1951. The American Red Cross is offering tips to stay cool and safe during the skyrocketing temperatures.

Stay indoors whenever possible — if air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine. Remember that electric fans do not cool the air, they simply circulate the air. Dress for the heat — wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors reflect some of the sun’s energy. It is also a good idea to wear hats or to use an umbrella. Drink water — carry water or Gatorade and drink continuously, even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol or caffeine, which dehydrate the body. Avoid using salt tablets if at all possible, but consider increasing the salt in your daily diet slightly to help the body maintain water. When outside, drink more than the recommended eight to ten ounces of water. Eat small meals, and eat more often — try not to go out in the heat with a full stomach. Avoid high-protein foods, which increase metabolic heat. Slow down and avoid strenuous activities — if you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning. Be a good neighbor — during hot months, check on elderly residents in your neighborhood and those who do not have air conditioning.

According to Hughes, not only are the elderly at risk for heat exhaustion and heatstroke, but also small children and people with high blood pressure and diabetes. If someone has already had heat exhaustion or a heatstroke, they are at a greater risk to suffer another heat stroke. In an article on eMedicineHealth, medical conditions or medications that impair the body’s ability to sweat may predispose a person to heat exhaustion or heatstroke problems. Residents may want to consult their doctor before working or playing in the heat if currently on medication.

It is always important to know whether a person is suffering from a heatstroke or from heat exhaustion. The first aid is different for each, so it’s best to understand the symptoms to know the best form of treatment.

Heat exhaustion typically occurs when residents, who are not well adjusted to the heat, work or play in a hot, humid place. Body fluids are lost through sweating, and are not replaced by drinking enough water or other electrolyte beverage. This can cause the body to overheat.

A heatstroke is an actual life threatening medical condition, in which a person’s cooling system, has stopped working and the internal temperature has risen to the point where the brain or other internal organs may be damaged.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

* May be weak or tired feeling

* May be faint, dizzy, or light-headed

* Could collapse

* May have a headache

* Could appear pale

* Skin may be cool and moist

* Could be sweating profusely

* Could have an increased heart rate

Symptoms of a Heatstroke

* A heatstroke is life threatening

* If body temperature reaches 105-degrees a heatstroke can occur

* Will not sweat very much

* Skin could be flushed, red, hot, and dry

* Could be dizzy or nauseous and confused

* Could be unconscious

* Could be hyperventilating

* Could have increased heart rate

If someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, there are several things that can be done to help them. The first thing to do is get them out of the sun. It’s best to make the person either lie or sit down. Make sure clothing is loosened, and apply cool packs or wet rags and fan to cool the body temperature down. Large amounts of fluids should not be consumed; it is best to take in fluids in small sips. If the person does not start to recover call a doctor.

Hughes said that when someone is suffering from a heatstroke it is likely they will be disoriented, if not unconscious. Again, the first thing to do is move the patient out of the sun and lie them down. And call 9-1-1 immediately. The outer layer of clothing should be removed and apply water or cool packs and fan to lower the core body temperature. If able, allow the person to sip cool water or other electrolyte beverage such as Gatorade. According to Hughes, “It is possible that the person will vomit if they are suffering from a heatstroke, but continue to try to get them to drink because they are extremely dehydrated.” And remember not to wipe the person down with alcohol; this could actually make the situation worse.

“The most important thing is for residents to try and stay out of the heat as much as possible,” said Hughes, “and if they can’t, to follow all of these tips to stay safe and cool.”

Information supplemented from the American Red Cross