Heat Illnesses 101

Your body normally cools itself by sweating. During hot weather, especially with high humidity, sweating just isn't enough. Your body temperature can rise to dangerous levels and you can develop a heat illness. Most heat illnesses occur from staying out in the heat too long. Exercising too much for your age and physical condition are also factors. Older adults, young children and those who are sick or overweight are most at risk. Drinking fluids to prevent dehydration, replenishing salt and minerals, and limiting time in the heat can help.

Progression of Heat Illnesses

 
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Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are brief, painful muscle cramps in the legs, arms, or abdomen that may occur during or after vigorous exercise in extreme heat. The sweating that occurs with intense physical activity causes the body to lose salts and fluids. This low level of salts causes the muscles to cramp. Kids are particularly at risk for heat cramps when they aren't drinking enough fluids. Although painful, heat cramps on their own aren't serious. But cramps can be the first sign of more serious heat illness, so they should be treated right away to help avoid any problems.

 

What to Do:

A cool place, rest, and fluids should ease a child's discomfort. If possible, give fluids that contain salt and sugar, such as sports drinks. Gently stretching and massaging cramped muscles also may help.

 
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Heat Exhaustion

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Heat exhaustion is a more severe heat illness that can occur when someone in a hot climate or environment hasn't been drinking enough fluids.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion May Include:

    • Increased Thirst
    • Weakness
    • Fainting
    • Muscle Cramps
    • Nausea and Vomiting
    • Irritability
    • Headache
    • Sweating (with Cool, Clammy Skin)
    • Elevated Temperature - but less than 104°F (40°C)


What to Do:

Go inside to a cooler place, an air-conditioned car, or shady area. Remove excess clothing, and encourage them to drink water. Sports drinks are NOT advised, as most contain nearly as much sugar as Cola, and can not only continue the dehydration trend, but also induce vomiting. A cool, wet cloth or cool water on your the skin may work wonders to help feel better. If too exhausted or ill to drink, call 911 or your local emergency number. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can develop into heatstroke, which can be fatal.

 
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Heat Stroke

The most severe form of heat illness is heat stroke, a potentially life-threatening medical emergency. While a person is suffering from heat stroke, the body is unable to regulate its own temperature. Core body temperatures can soar to 106°F (41.1°C) or even higher, leading to brain damage or even death if it isn't quickly treated. Prompt medical treatment is required to bring the body temperature under control.

Factors that increase the risk for heat stroke include overdressing and extreme physical activity in hot weather with inadequate fluid intake. Heat stroke also can happen when a person (especially a child or elderly person) is left in, or becomes accidentally trapped in a car on a hot day. When the outside temperature is 93°F (33.9°C), the temperature inside a car can reach 125°F (51.7°C) in just 20 minutes, quickly raising body temperature to dangerous levels.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke May Include:

    • Severe Headache
    • Weakness, Dizziness
    • Confusion
    • Nausea or Vomiting
    • Rapid Breathing and Heartbeat
    • Fainting
    • Seizure
    • Not Sweating Anymore
    • Red, Hot, Dry Skin
    • Core Temperature of 104°F (40°C) or Higher


 
Heat Stroke Graphic

What to Do:

Call 911 or your local emergency number as soon as you notice signs or symptoms of heat stroke. Get the patient indoors or into the shade as quickly as possible. They may not be able to walk, so be prepared to move them with help! Remove tight or warm clothing, and using a sponge or wet towel, douse him or her with cool water. Do NOT give fluids or any OTC medications (such as Tylenol or Motrin).