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This summer heat wave has been scorching Texas for over a month and isn’t showing any signs of letting up soon. As students prepare to start up school again on August 22, parents should remain vigilant in protecting their kids against heat-related problems.

There are three main levels of heat problems, each with its own set of symptoms that, if left untreated, can quickly lead to more serious problems. The three levels are, in ascending order of deadliness: heat stress, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat stress occurs when the body has overworked itself and is having trouble cooling off. The symptoms include – but are not limited to – reduced coordination, slower thinking, less caution and cramps. If parents observe these behaviors, they need to get their kids out of the sun immediately, into a cooler area and give them plenty of water.

Heat exhaustion is the next stage after heat stress and the symptoms only continue to worsen. There are many signs that indicate heat exhaustion but the most severe are nausea, vomiting, loss of coordination, hyperventilation and fainting. Victims are severely dehydrated and need fluids immediately. At this point, if any of these symptoms are apparent, it would be best to take your kid to the hospital as a precaution.

The final and most dangerous stage is heat stroke. If it has come to this, the body has lost its ability to cool down and the is in danger of rapidly overheating. The victim’s skin is dry to the touch and sometime red. There could be difficulty with breathing as well as a rapid but faint pulse. In the worst-case scenario, there could even be convulsions or a slip into a coma. Immediate hospital attention is vital.

Children are not the only ones vulnerable to heat illness. Adults are also quite susceptible, especially if they’re not used to working in the heat. However, there are a few, easy precautions that everyone can take.

  • Condition yourself for working in a hot environment – start slowly then build up to a more physical work. Allow your body to adjust over a few days.
  • Drink lots of fluids. This cannot be overstated. Do not wait until you are actually thirsty. By then, there is a good chance you’re already on the way to dehydration. However, never drink alcohol or carbonated drinks to quench your thirst. They will only dehydrate you further.
  • Take plenty of breaks, especially if you’re feeling light-headed.
  • Wear light-weight, light-colored clothes when working outside.
  • Get plenty of sleep at night so you’re not working on half-a-tank of gas to start the day.
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