We are in some weird weather patterns fluctuating between storms and heat waves. Although in Galveston the actual temperature isn’t really that high, the real thing that worries us is the heat index, which is a combination of relative humidity and air temperature. When the relative humidity is over 60% it hampers with sweat evaporation and hinders your body’s ability to cool itself. Since in Galveston the humidity is pretty much always over 60% heat related illnesses are an ever present danger in the summer.
Heat exhaustion is the first stage of heat related illness and is usually accompanied by some type of dehydration. According to Web MD, there are two types of heat exhaustion:
- Water depletion. Signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness.
- Salt depletion. Signs include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.
We see heat exhaustion often on the beach in late summer. Many people spend he whole day in the heat and sun and often aren’t used to those conditions. Sometimes people who are outside regularly forget to hydrate or drink beverages that hasten dehydration. Generally people will be confused, nauseous, dizzy, light headed, tired, have headaches or cramps, have pale or clammy skin, sweat profusely, and/or have a rapid heartbeat.
The first thing we do is try to get them out of the heat and sun. On the beach this can mean an air conditioned vehicle, wiping their skin with a moist cloth and letting the wind blow, or applying cold packs or ice in areas of the body with lots of circulation. We try to get them to drink fluid as well, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, or sugary drinks.
Normally this is enough and we are able to treat at the scene and release them with a warning to take it easy for the next few days. This would be one example of the roughly 1,800 calls we’re able to filter for EMS annually. But if these measures don’t work within a few minutes we call for EMS because heat exhaustion can progress rapidly to heat stroke. Heat stroke is a critical life threatening situation so we want to avoid it if at all possible.
An important, but not well, issue that affects our guards and people that are on the beach all the time is that of cumulative dehydration. New lifeguards often find that on the second week of work they are dizzy when they stand up or have stomach issues. They don’t feel thirsty so there’s no clue that they have become more and more dehydrated. Until they learn that they need to drink close to two gallons of water a day even if they’re not thirsty it will continue.
Living where we do in Galveston County it’s important that we are consciously aware of the effects and dangers of heat and sun and takes steps to mitigate them.