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What You Need to Know to Stay Cool During a West Texas Heat Wave

Highs throughout West Texas have hit triple digits this week. (flickr.com/photos/17548490@N00/ CC BY-SA 2.0)

Today we’re seeing cooler temperatures than we saw in the last couple of days. But it’s still expected to be hot today and throughout the rest of the week in West Texas.

And with highs reaching well into the upper 90s, the threat of heat-related illnesses has grown. To better understand how to prevent becoming overheated we talk with Levi Stone, the chief nursing officer at Odessa Regional Medical Center.

In the last couple days, Stone says the Odessa Regional Medical Center has seen a jump in patients suffering from heat-related illnesses.

"It's been a diverse group of folks, anywhere from folks that tend to work outside to the elderly who can be more prone to heat-related illnesses," Stone says. The center also saw the heat affect people suffering from chronic illnesses and children and infants.

Stayin' Cool

The first step to avoiding heat exhaustion or heat stroke, Stone says, is to stay hydrated.

"Regardless of your background, regardless if you work outside, regardless of your age. You do need to increase your fluid intake."

And choosing the right liquids, he adds, is just as important as staying hydrated.

"You want to really stick with water," Stone says. "You want to avoid caffeinated beverages, alcohol-containing beverages, or even beverages with a high sugar content, such as sodas and even Gatorade."

Stone says sports drinks can help if you've been outside, in rigorous activity, for more than an hour. But otherwise, he adds, people should continue to drink water throughout the day "before you get thirsty."

Drinking water throughout the day important. Stone says "drink before your body is thirst. You want to take sips of water throughout the day, stay ahead

Stone also recommends taking plenty of breaks throughout the day and wearing light clothing.

For oilfield workers it's staying cool is a bit trickier. Oilfield workers are normally dressed head to toe in heavy, fire-retardant suits.

"It's a double-edged sword," Stone says. "While that fire-protective gear does keep them from really getting sunburned, it does retain a lot of heat.

So for workers who must be outside for the jobs, Stone recommends planning ahead of time.

"Time is money, we're in that oil boom," he says. "But really to be as productive and effective in that role is to really plan your day out, find those opportunities to take those breaks, preferably in the shade. Drink a ton of water and just continue to encourage your coworkers to do the same."

Heat Exhaustion v. Heat Stroke

It starts off with heat cramps, Stone says. "That's going to be muscle pain or spasms. If that's not addressed by taking breaks or drinking water that can lead to heat exhaustion."

When a person is experiencing heat exhaustion, Stone says they will sweat heavily. Their skin becomes clammy and cold, their heart rate increases and you can become tired. Dizziness, headaches and possibly fainting are other conditions.

Stone says the best treatment is trying to cool your body down as quickly as possible. He recommends moving to a cool place, or loosening your clothes and drinking water.

If you don't take these actions, Stone says, the chances of a heat stroke are likely.

"That's a medical emergency," Stone says. "That's when our body reaches a high temperature of about 103 degrees or higher."

This can damage organs and cause people to lose consciousness, Stone says. If a person is experiencing heat stroke you can move them to a cooler place to help bring their body temperature down, but Stone says don't try to give them something to drink, especially if they're in and out of conciousness.




Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.