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According to Legacy ER & Urgent Care, we’ve become far too accustomed to hearing about the heat each day on our morning newscasts: ozone action day, heat advisory, temperature alerts, record highs…but are we even listening?

“Living in a climate such as North Texas often leads to complacency when considering the high temperatures we experience in the summer months. But it’s very important to be aware of the cumulative and damaging effects of heat on our bodies. Everyone needs to plan ahead and take the right measure of precaution when spending an extended time outdoors in the heat,” said Dr. Jay Woody, founder and chief medical officer of Legacy ER & Urgent Care.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 618 heat-related deaths per year in the U.S. Local statistics are every bit as alarming as well. According to the Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS), DallasCounty recorded two deaths in 2015, but almost 300 cases of heat-related illnesses.

Legacy ER & Urgent Care, a North Texas-based facility offering both ER and urgent care services, shares what you need to know about how to keep you and your family safe this summer:

There are three levels of heat-related illness which include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, each stage increasing in severity. All are compounded by one simple factor – the body’s inability to cool itself. The body must maintain a core temperature of approximately 98.6 F at all times to function properly. When the body is overexposed to extreme weather-related heat, it becomes more of a challenge to cool off. As a result, the body experiences the following stages of heat-related illness:

  1. Heat cramps – This is the first sign that the body is not cooling itself properly. It’s a mild reaction to overheating and includes muscle ache, thirst and fatigue.

  2. Heat exhaustion – This is the next stage of overheating and is caused by a continued lack of treatment for the body’s reaction to extreme heat. Symptoms include nausea, dizziness, headache and thirst.

  3. Heat stroke – This is the most severe stage of heat-related illness. It’s caused when the body becomes completely unable to cool itself. If not treated properly and immediately, heat stroke can be fatal.

There are other symptoms to look for which often serve as the body’s early warning sign of a reaction to extreme heat:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Profuse sweating
  • Nausea
  • Thirst
  • Clammy skin
  • Muscle cramps

According to the medical staff at Legacy, the best way to treat any of these early warning signs is to immediately:

  • Remove any articles of clothing that may be causing the body to retain heat
  • Drink water and/or liquids with electrolytes
  • Immediately seek a shaded or cool area
  • Use ice packs or fanning to cool down your body

Should heat-related symptoms persist or worsen, it’s important to seek medical help immediately, as these conditions can be progressive, leading to a life-threatening situation.