Identifying and Treating Heat-Related Illnesses

Summer’s here and the weather is already getting hot. As we spend more time outdoors, heat-related illnesses become a concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a helpful list of how to identify the symptoms of various heat-related illnesses and what to do when you or a loved one shows those signs.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is caused by your body overheating, most often as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. Be sure to note that with heat stroke, you should not give the person anything to drink, unlike with heat exhaustion or heat cramps (see below).

What to look for:

  • High body temperature (103°F or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness (passing out)

What to do:

  • Call 911 right away-heat stroke is a medical emergency
  • Move the person to a cooler place
  • Help lower the person’s temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath
  • Do not give the person anything to drink

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is the result of exposure to high temperatures and is often accompanied by dehydration. It is the middle step from heat cramps (see below) to heat stroke (see above).

What to look for:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fainting (passing out)

What to do:

  • Move to a cool place
  • Loosen your clothes
  • Put cool, wet cloths on your body or take a cool bath
  • Sip water

Get medical help right away if:

  • You are throwing up
  • Your symptoms get worse
  • Your symptoms last longer than 1 hour

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are painful, involuntary muscle spasms that usually occur during heavy exercise in hot environments. The spasms may be more intense and prolonged than the typical night cramps.

What to look for:

  • Heavy sweating during intense exercise
  • Muscle pain or spasms

What to do:

  • Stop physical activity and move to a cool place
  • Drink water or a sports drink
  • Wait for cramps to go away before you do any more physical activity

Get medical help right away if:

  • Cramps last longer than 1 hour
  • You’re on a low-sodium diet
  • You have heart problems

Sunburn

Sunburn is a form of radiation burn due to overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, most commonly from the sun or tanning beds. It is one of the most common heat-related illnesses and can lead to skin cancers later in life.

What to look for:

  • Painful, red, and warm skin
  • Blisters on the skin

What to do:

  • 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 blisters

Heat Rash

Heat rash occurs when the skin’s sweat glands are blocked and the sweat produced cannot get to the surface of the skin to evaporate and cool the body. This causes inflammation that results in a rash.

What to look for:

  • Red clusters of small blisters that look like pimples on the skin (usually on the neck, chest, groin, or in elbow creases)

What to do:

  • Stay in a cool, dry place
  • Keep the rash dry
  • Use powder (like baby powder) to soothe the rash

The CDC also has an infographic with this informationthat you can easily share on social media.

Photo © 2012 by Conservation Law Foundation and Emily T. Starrunder Creative Commons license.