We tend to take escaping the oppressive, dangerous heat prevalent in Southeast Texas summers for granted. About two-thirds of homes have central air conditioning systems nationwide, and of those that don’t, another 23 percent have at least window units to help cool things down.
That leaves most Americans not having to battle the heat more than a few minutes at the time — when they walk from their home to their car and when they walk from their car into their destination. The rest of the time, we’re are in air-controlled comfort.
For the 10 percent of people who have no home air conditioning at all, or whose jobs require being outdoors in the baking sun, the threat posed by the heat is very real. The consequences, though, are quite preventable.
Brazoria County is in its third day under a heat advisory, meaning there is a greater chance of heat-related illness and death because of the combined temperature and humidity. Called the heat index, forecasters expected it to be between 106 and 113 degrees Friday and for that trend to continue through the weekend.
To provide perspective on that temperature range, a rare steak only reaches an internal temperature of 115 degrees.
Hundreds of Texas workers each year encounter heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, according to the U.S Department of Labor. An average of four children a year 14 and younger in the Lone Star State dies of heatstroke each year.
Yet they aren’t the most likely to experience heat-related illnesses. Those are people in the 45-64 age range, and overwhelmingly men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Not surprisingly, air conditioning is the No. 1 way to prevent heat-related problems. For those without access to air conditioning in their home — or don’t have the financial means to pay the massive electric bills caused by cranking the chilled air — the Brazoria County Library System branches are serving as cooling centers. Gulf Coast Auto Parks has provided bottled water for people to stay hydrated while cooling off.
Other businesses are unlikely to shoo people away if they need to get their body temperature under control, and we need to check on our neighbors — especially seniors, those without air conditioning and those on fixed incomes — to ensure they are not risking their health by staying in their homes during extreme heat.
In addition to the AC, people can offset the effects of the heat by frequently drinking water or non-alcoholic fluids; wearing lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing; and reducing or eliminating strenuous activities or doing them during cooler parts of the day, according to the CDC.
Signs someone needs immediate assistance include a body temperature greater than 103 degrees; red, hot and dry skin (no sweating); rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; and unconsciousness. If those symptoms appear, call 911 — heat stroke is life-threatening.
Texans consider themselves to be hardy souls who don’t let things like the weather get in the way of them doing hard, dirty work under a scorching sun. Living up to that reputation requires living, and it’s foolhardy to push through signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke just to appear tough.
It’s also not wise to try saving a few bucks and trying to cope with excessive heat at home. Get to a cooling center — all county libraries are open until 5 pm. today — or another place that provides relief from the heat. Be especially mindful of children and the elderly, who are more susceptible to dangerous conditions, and watch for signs in yourself that the heat has gotten to be a bit too much.