Be Aware of Heat Related Illnesses A PSA from Dr. Cornell!

Heat Related Illness

People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies cannot properly cool themselves by sweating. Sweating is the body’s natural air conditioning, but when a person’s body temperature rises rapidly, sweating just isn’t enough. Heat-related illnesses can be serious and life threatening. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs, and can cause disability and even death. Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable. Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It happens when the body’s temperature rises quickly and the body cannot cool down. Heat Stroke can cause permanent disability and death.

Heat Exhaustion is a milder type of heat – related illness. It usually develops after a number of days in high temperature weather and not drinking enough fluids.

Heat Cramps usually affect people who sweat a lot during demanding activity. Sweating reduces the body’s salt and moisture and can cause painful cramps, usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. Because heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable, people need to know who is at greatest risk and what actions can be taken.

Who is at risk? Those at highest risk include the elderly, the very young, people with mental illness and people with chronic diseases. However, even young and healthy individuals can succumb to heat if they participate in demanding physical activities during hot weather. Other conditions that can increase your risk for heat-related illness include obesity, fever, dehydration, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug or alcohol abuse.

How to Prevent Heat-Related Illness

Here’s how you can protect yourself from heat related illnesses:
  • Drink plenty of non-carbonated liquids like water or electrolyte-enriched liquids to replace fluids even if you don’t feel thirsty.
  • Avoid liquids that have alcohol, caffeine or lots of sugar because they will speed up fluid loss.
  • Stay in air-conditioned areas such as malls, libraries, movie theatres and community centers. Even a few hours can cool your body’s temperature.
  • If you feel very hot, cool off by taking a cool bath or shower. Opening a window or using a fan may not prevent heat-related illnesses.
  • Do not cool children in alcohol baths. Cool, plain water baths or moist towels work best.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, such as cotton, so sweat can evaporate.
  • NEVER leave anyone in closed, parked cars during hot weather. That includes all pets.
  • Do not bundle babies in blankets or heavy clothing. Infants do not tolerate heat well because their sweat glands are not fully developed. If you must be in the heat, here are some things you should do:
    • Drink plenty of liquids such as water, sports drinks but no alcohol. Limit physical activity to early morning and evening. Avoid physical activity or exercise between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. – typically the hottest part of the day.
    • Wear a wide-brimmed, vented hat or use an umbrella because your head absorbs heat easily.
    • Put on sunglasses and sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
    • Rest often in shady areas.

Warning Signs of Heat Stroke

Signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:
  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F, orally)
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

What to do for Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If you see someone with these warning signs have someone call 911 for immediate medical assistance and begin cooling the victim:
  • Get the victim to a shady area.
  • Cool the victim quickly using whatever you can – put them in a tub or shower of cold water; spray them with cold water from a garden hose; sponge them with cold water.
  • Monitor body temperature, and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
  • If there is vomiting, make sure the airway remains open by turning the victim on his or her side.
  • Do not give the victim fluids to drink.
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.

Heat Exhaustion

This is the body’s response to losing a lot water and salt that’s in sweat. People most likely to get heat exhaustion are the elderly, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment. Warning signs of heat exhaustion include:
  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Fainting
Also, the skin may be cool and moist. The victim’s pulse will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may develop into heat stroke.

What to do for Heat Exhaustion

Seek medical attention immediately (call 911) if the symptoms are severe or the victim has heart problems or high blood pressure. Otherwise, cool off the victim, and seek medical attention if the symptoms worsen or last longer than one (1) hour. The victim can cool off by doing the following:
  • Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
  • Rest in a cool or air-conditioned place.
  • Take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath.
  • Put on lightweight clothing. Heat Cramps Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat a lot during demanding activity. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.

What to do for Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are muscle spasms and pain that occur during heavy sweating during intense exercise. If medical attention is not necessary, take these steps:
  • Stop all activity, and sit quietly in a cool place. Remove unnecessary clothing i.e. jackets, sweaters etc.
  • Drink water, clear juice or a sports beverage.
  • Do not return to demanding activity for a few hours after the cramps have stopped. Further activity could lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Seek medical attention (call 911) for heat cramps if they do not subside within an hour or if the person has heart problems or is on a low-sodium (salt restricted) diet.


  • Painful, red, and warm skin
  • Blisters on the skin
How to treat a sunburn:
  • Stay out of the sun until your sunburn heals
  • Put cool cloths on sunburned areas or take a cool bath
  • Put moisturizing lotion on sunburned areas
  • Do not break the blisters. If the blisters become more inflamed suggesting an infection seek medical care immediately or if a fever develops. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used for the discomfort. Ice packs may also give relief from the pain. Be sure to put a towel between the burn and the ice pack.

Heat Rash

  • Red clusters of small blisters that look like pimples on the skin (usually on the neck, chest, groin, or in elbow creases) blisters
  • Stay in a cool, dry place
  • Keep the rash dry
  • Use powder (like baby powder) to soothe the rash


Sunscreen needs to be applied approximately 20 minutes before going out in the sun. Use a sunscreen that is at least a SPF 30. It needs to be re-applied about every two hours especially if swimming or sweating a lot. Also wearing a hat and sun shirt also helps prevent sunburn.

When applying both insect repellent and sunscreen, apply the sunscreen first. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends applying sunscreen before insect repellent, and letting the sunscreen fully absorb into the skin for 10 minutes before putting on insect repellent. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every couple of hours to remain effective. Yet insect repellent only needs to be reapplied every three to six hours, depending on the product’s strength.

Source of material: CDC (Center for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization)

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