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Preparedness Spotlight: Beat the Summer Heat

How to Stay Safe When the Temperature Rises


Credit: Getty images

Outdoor concerts. Beach trips. Pool parties. The sizzling summer days are back, bringing all the enjoyable activities that come with this time of year. But the steamy temperatures can be dangerous: Extreme heat kills more than 600 people in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even though heat-related deaths are preventable.

Heat-related illness, or hyperthermia, can happen on hot days when a person’s body temperature rises faster than it can cool. This can cause damage to the brain and other critical organs. Heat-related illnesses can affect anyone, but those most at risk include infants and children up to 4 years old; people 65 years and older; and those with medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Behaviors, such as drinking alcohol and taking medications that weaken the ability to regulate body temperature, can further endanger a person during extreme heat.

Types of Heat-Related Illness

The following are some common heat-related illnesses and their symptoms.

  • Heat cramps are muscle pain or spasms that occur during or after exercise or physical work in the heat.

What to do: Stop physical activity and go to a cool place. Seek medical attention if the cramps last longer than one hour, or if you have heart problems or are on a low-sodium diet.

  • Heat exhaustion occurs when your body loses too much water and salt through sweating, particularly through physical activity or exercise, and you do not replace the fluids. Symptoms include muscle cramping, fatigue, headache, nausea or vomiting, and dizziness or fainting.

What to do: Drink water and go to a cool place. Seek medical help if you are throwing up or if your symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.

  • Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when you spend a prolonged amount of time in extreme heat, and your body is unable to cool off. Milder heat-related illnesses, such as heat cramps or heat exhaustion, could lead to heat stroke, but heat stroke can occur without prior symptoms. Signs of heat stroke include a body temperature greater than 103 degrees F, inability to sweat, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion or unconsciousness.

What to do: If a person is suffering from a heat stroke, call 911 immediately. Move the person to a cooler place. Apply cool, damp cloths or, if you are able, put the person in a cool bath to help lower the body temperature. Do not give the person anything to drink.

Prevention

The best way to prevent heat-related illness is to remain in an air-conditioned location during hot weather. This could be your home or another area with air conditioning. Here are other ways to prevent illness in extreme temperatures:

  • Drink water or other nonalcoholic and caffeine-free beverages frequently.
  • Wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Avoid spending time in the sun, especially during hotter times of the day. Refrain from exercising or participating in strenuous activities, if possible, or do them during cooler parts of the day.
  • Do not leave children or pets alone in cars. Cars heat up quickly, which can be deadly. Also, be sure that children cannot lock themselves in an enclosed space, such as a car trunk.
  • Dehydration is common in pets, so be sure to provide them with fresh, clean water, and place the water in a shady area if they are outside. Also, be careful not to overexercise a pet, and give the animal access to a shady area.

During heat waves, remember to check on people at risk for heat-related illnesses, such as elderly or homebound people. If you are attending an outdoor festival, concert or other large gathering, locate the first-aid area before or when you arrive.

For more information on extreme heat and heat-related illness, visit the CDC’s website.