This year has been one of the hottest on record for many parts of the country. For anyone, but especially those who are not acclimated to warm weather or are in a high-risk group, these heat waves can be deadly. So it’s important that everyone know how to prevent and treat heat-related illnesses.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated will help your body sweat and maintain a normal body temperature. However, limit or avoid fluids that contain alcohol, caffeine or sugar. Also, avoid very cold beverages as they can cause stomach cramping.
- Avoid hot foods and heavy meals. They add heat to your body.
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing. Wearing excess clothing or clothing that fits tightly won't allow your body to cool properly.
- Wear light-colored clothing if you're in the sun. Dark clothing absorbs heat. Light-colored clothing can help keep you cool by reflecting the sun's rays.
- Never leave people or pets in a parked car. It's not safe to leave a person inside a parked car in hot weather for any period of time, even if the windows are cracked or the car is in the shade. When your car is parked, keep it locked to prevent a child from getting inside.
- Limit activity during the hottest parts of the day. Try to schedule exercise or physical labor for early morning or evening. If you can't avoid strenuous activity in hot weather, taking breaks in a cool spot and replenishing your fluids frequently will help your body regulate your temperature.
- Get acclimatized. People who are not used to hot weather are especially susceptible to heat-related illness, including heatstroke. It can take several weeks for your body to adjust to hot weather. Therefore, limit the amount you spend working or exercising in the heat until you're conditioned to it.
- Be cautious if you're at increased risk. If you take medications or have a physical condition that increases your risk of heat-related problems, avoid the heat and act quickly if you notice symptoms of overheating.
- Provide shade and plenty of fresh water for your pets. Place water bowl in a shady area. Also, limit exercise during the hottest part of the day and bring the pet indoors if possible. You can also spray your dog with a water hose to help them cool off.
Symptoms and Treatment
There are different types of heat-related illnesses, ranging from temporary discomfort, such as a heat rash, to a potentially fatal condition known as heat stroke.
Heat rash: Newborns, infants, and the elderly are at risk for developing heat rash--especially if they are immobile for long periods of time and parts of the skin aren't exposed to circulating air. Heat rash often resolves on its own if you keep the skin cool and dry and wear loose clothing. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what to use if the rash remains prickly, itchy or sore.
Heat cramps: If you have been exercising or participating in other strenuous activities in the heat, you may develop painful muscle spasms in the arms, legs, or abdomen referred to as heat cramps. Your body temperature will usually be normal, but your skin will feel moist and cool, but sweaty.
If you experience heat cramps, move to a cooler location, preferably air-conditioned, and rest. Drink water and/or an electrolyte replacer (sports drink). Usually cramps subside within an hour but it may take several hours to fully recover.
Heat fainting: Many people experience dizziness or fainting after exposure to high temperatures, particularly after exercising in the heat. As with heat cramps, your skin may by pale and sweaty but remains cool. You may have a weak, rapid heart rate but a normal body temperature.
If you feel faint or dizzy in hot weather, seek shade or a cooler, air-conditioned location. Sip cool or tepid water to help cool your body. You can also apply cool compresses to your head and neck. Full recovery can take several hours to a full day.
Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is a warning that the body is getting too hot. Those most prone to heat exhaustion include elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment. With heat exhaustion, you may experience:
- extreme thirst
- weakness or stumbling
- nausea or vomiting
- profuse sweating
- normal body temperature with normal or elevated pulse rate
- cold and clammy skin
What to do:
- Get out of the sun and into a shady or air-conditioned location. Lay down and elevate your legs and feet slightly.
- Loosen or remove clothing.
- Drink cool water or other nonalcoholic beverage without caffeine.
- Cool down by spraying or sponging yourself with cool water and fanning.
Have someone stay with you to monitor you. If your symptoms don’t improve or you pass out or become unresponsive, they should call 911 as heat exhaustion can quickly become heatstroke.
Heat stroke: Heat stroke is a serious, life-threatening condition that occurs when the body loses its ability to control its temperature. In heat stroke, a person develops a fever that rapidly rises to dangerous levels within minutes. Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- body temperature above 104 F (40 C), but it may rise even higher.
- confusion, combativeness, bizarre behavior
- feeling faint, weak or staggering
- strong rapid pulse
- dry flushed skin
- lack of sweating
Victims of heat stroke almost always die unless they receive immediate medical attention so call 911 when symptoms first begin. You can follow the procedures for heat exhaustion until medical personnel arrive.