Prolonged exposure to heat can have a number of adverse physical and emotional effects, but awareness and proper care can help people of all ages beat the heat monster, said Texas AgriLife Extension Service experts.

“Excessive exposure to a hot environment, especially while active or working, can bring about any of a number of disorders or illnesses related to hyperthermia,” said Dr. Carol Rice, AgriLife Extension specialist in health and wellness education. “Some of the physical effects range from heat cramps to edema – swelling of the ankles and feet – rash, exhaustion or heat stroke.”

Rice said one of the major contributors to heat-related illness is dehydration.

“Even under normal temperature conditions, we lose a lot of fluids through bodily functions such as breathing and sweating and those fluids must be replaced,” she said. “Living and working in a hot environment significantly increases fluid loss. Under normal temperature conditions, drink nine to 13 cups of fluid a day. In a hot environment, you may need to drink as much as one cup every 20 minutes.”

Rice said chronic fatigue, lethargy and constant headache may be symptoms of dehydration. Others may include dizziness, impaired performance, clammy skin, rapid pulse, dry mouth, swelling, gastric problems and changes in consciousness level.

She said some ways to reduce or adjust to heat exposure include limiting  activity until the body adjusts to the warmer temperature, avoiding strenuous  activity during the warmest part of the day, staying indoors as much as  possible to avoid direct exposure, wearing loose-fitting, lightweight, light- colored clothing, wearing a hat and drinking plenty of water.

Rice also suggested eating smaller, lighter meals more often and avoiding high-protein foods that may increase metabolic heat.

“Of course, we always try to reiterate that people should never leave pets or  kids in closed vehicles and to remember to check on relatives or neighbors who  spend much of their time alone,” she said. And don’t try and rehydrate by drinking beverages containing alcohol, as those may have the opposite effect and you’re already probably somewhat impaired by the heat.”