Hydration, Protection are Best Ways to Battle Summer Heat

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

Chao Boli is a native Kenyan who recently moved to El Paso to continue her business studies at UTEP. Her initial reaction was somewhat typical: “It’s hot here.”

The mercury hovered near the triple-digit neighborhood for several days the week of June 3. Plenty more 100-degree days are expected in the region this summer. Since 1981, the city has averaged about 20 100-plus degree days, according to the National Weather Service. The unprepared could experience anything from discomfort to heat exhaustion or worse.Groundskeeper Juan Carlos Reyes wears a cap and long sleeves as protection against the morning sun as he cuts the grass in front of the University Library. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceGroundskeeper Juan Carlos Reyes wears a cap and long sleeves as protection against the morning sun as he cuts the grass in front of the University Library. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

Boli, who is studying operations and supply chains, was walking along Hawthorne Street with its new shade structures when she took a moment to share how she uses sunscreen and drinks plenty of water during the day to mitigate the sun’s impact.

She is on the right track, according to health officials at The University of Texas at El Paso, who offered some common sense tips to help faculty, staff and students to deal with the dry summer heat. On top of staying hydrated and using sunscreen, they suggested people wear hats and loose and light-colored clothing, use shade umbrellas, and limit their time in the heat.

Louise Castro, UTEP’s Student Health Center director, suggested that people drink about 8 oz. of water every 20 minutes and advised that being thirsty is a signal that you already are dehydrated. Furthermore, she said the body absorbs cool water faster than room temperature water.

She recommended people eat light, healthy meals, stay away from alcohol and limit the amount of caffeinated and sugary drinks they consume because they slow the absorption rate.

People who begin to feel symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as increased sweat, thirst, dizziness, fatigue, body aches and shortness of breath, should enter an air-conditioned building, sit down and cool off, Castro said.

Symptoms for heat stroke include lack of perspiration, hot skin and mental changes. People who experience this should remove excess clothing, splash water on their faces, lie down and elevate their legs. Those who do not feel better in about 20 minutes should call for help, Castro said.

There were a reported 46 heat-related deaths in Texas in 2011, most of them being adult males age 50 and older, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Those impacted the most by the punishing weather are the grounds crews who work for Facilities Services. Crew leader Martin Sifuentes has eight people working with him and he encourages them to take water breaks as needed. They wear long-sleeved shirts and caps or wide-brimmed hats to protect them from the sun as they cut grass, trim bushes and trees, and fertilize University property. Sifuentes was in front of Cotton Memorial as two of his workers took a break after cutting grass in front of the building.

“Sometimes the grass can create its own humidity so we get it from the bottom and from the top,” he said referring to the sun. “We’re even sweating behind our sunglasses.”

Eileen Aguilar, the University Wellness Program Manager, said people should visit the wellness.utep.edu website to get tips on the amount of water they should drink every day, best practices for sun protection and summer exercise tips. For example, she suggested a lunchtime walk could be replaced by taking a few flights of stairs or a longer route when you walk in your building in the morning.

Even the more hardcore athletes should refrain from outdoor exercise between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when temperatures are at their highest. Dawn Hearn, UTEP’s head athletic trainer, remembered when she was a determined high school athlete in Iowa and thought she was doing everything right but still almost fell victim to a heat stroke.

She is a loud and vocal proponent of hydration in the office or on the practice fields and encourages elite athletes and weekend warriors to drink plenty of water before, during and after their workouts.

“You should stay in the shade during the heat of the day and listen to your body,” she said.

Senior nursing and biology major Daniel Soler said he copes with the heat by drinking plenty of water, but also by taking advantage of as much campus shade as possible when he walks between his pathophysiology class in the Liberal Arts Building and the Sun Bowl Parking Garage.

“I even duck into the buildings when possible to take advantage of the air conditioning,” Soler said.