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  • Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are potentially fatal conditions when temperatures rise.
  • Experts say it’s critical to know the signs, symptoms, and how to help yourself or others when heat illness occurs.
  • Heat stroke happens when the body can no longer regulate its temperature to cool down.

Each year more people in the U.S. die from extreme heat exposure than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The ongoing climate crisis has disrupted weather patterns across much of the U.S., with multiple cities declaring heat emergencies in recent days.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are potentially fatal conditions when temperatures rise, and it’s critical to know the signs, symptoms, and how to help yourself or others when heat illness occurs.

Dr. Adam Rivadeneyra, a sports medicine physician with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Southern California, told Healthline that heat illness is a “continuum,” with heatstroke involving neurologic changes, like loss of consciousness and/or seizures.

The CDC describes heat exhaustion as a “milder form” of heat-related illness that could develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.

Heat stroke, the agency explained, happens when the body can no longer regulate its temperature to cool down.

Within 10 to 15 minutes, body temperature could reach 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and without emergency treatment, the condition can lead to death or permanent disability.

Dr. Theodore Strange, chair of medicine at Staten Island University Hospital, part of Northwell Health in New York, said our body temperature is normally regulated to stay about 97 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit.

He emphasized that it’s “concerning” once someone’s temperature exceeds 104 degrees.

Strange said there are three stages of heat injury to look out for; heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and, heat stroke.

“Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion may develop suddenly or over time,” he cautioned. “Especially with prolonged periods of exercise.”

According to Strange, possible signs and symptoms of heat illness can include cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat, as well as:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Faintness
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headaches

“Children have additional risk of heat illness due to smaller surface area of their skin, which makes it harder to dissipate heat through sweating,” said Rivadeneyra

Strange said, “the best prevention” is not to exercise or perform strenuous activities during the peak heat time of day or in direct sunlight.

“A must is to drink plenty of fluids both before and after the activities which should include water and electrolyte drinks,” he advised.

He pointed out that younger and older persons have to be particularly careful, as their bodies don’t have the regulatory ability to adapt to high temperatures.

Strange said steps we can take to reduce the risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke include:

  • Wearing looser, lighter clothing to help dispel the heat
  • Avoid alcohol and heavy meals
  • Avoid getting sunburned

According to Houston Public Media, Texans are being asked to conserve energy even as the state experiences scorching temperatures.

Last week, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) asked state residents to conserve power as the region continues to break power usage levels.

ERCOT encouraged Texans to raise thermostat levels to 78 degrees and delay using large appliances, as part of a collective effort to avoid rolling blackouts.

“The real issue that they are facing is that most of that capacity is non-dispatchable,” Kevin Jones, PhD, associate professor at University of Houston Downtown’s College of Business, said in a statement.

“In other words, generation sources, particularly wind, you can’t access directly on demand,” he explained. “For example when there’s a really hot day, but no wind, you won’t be able to rely on your wind turbine to generate the energy that you need for your grid.”

If you see someone suffering from heat stress, the Red Cross recommends you follow these steps:

  • If they’re losing consciousness or vomiting, immediately call 9-1-1
  • Relocate the person to an air-conditioned or shaded area
  • Provide cool water they can drink slowly
  • Apply ice or cold towels to the head, neck, groin, wrists, ankles and underarms

Rivadeneyra noted that immersing someone in cold water is the “best way” to rapidly cool them.

“Heat waves may also cause power outages,” Ariane Einecker, interim CEO, American Red Cross North Texas Region, said in a statement.

Einecker said when this happens people should have a plan to go where air conditioning is available until power is restored.

The Red Cross advises anyone without access to air conditioning to seek relief from the heat during the warmest part of the day in places like schools, libraries, theaters, or malls.

Jane Gilbert, chief heat officer for Miami-Dade County, told CNN that people without air conditioning can keep cool by leaving windows open, using fans, and putting cold towels on their necks.

Exposure to extreme heat can cause heat-related illnesses that can develop into heatstroke.

Experts say it’s concerning once body temperature rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

They also say people without air conditioning should seek relief from high temperatures at locations that include schools, malls, and libraries.