How to Beat the Heat + Symptoms of Heat-Related Illnesses

Summer is the perfect season for adventure and relaxation. However, it’s also the time of year when you need to stay alert and aware of the heat’s potentially harmful effects. Everyone including teens, older adults, and children can benefit from learning how to stay safe in the summer heat and how to prevent, recognize, and treat heat-related illnesses. Here are a few tips on how to beat the heat this Summer.

Extreme Heat & How It Affects Us

Normal summer temperatures can be bad enough, but extreme heat is truly unbearable. Extreme heat is defined as summertime temperatures that are far hotter and/or more humid than average for that particular location. An extreme heat event, or heatwave, is an extended period of time — typically three days or more — with unusually hot weather conditions that can be harmful to humans.

Most Common Heat-Related Illness Symptoms

If you or someone you know experiences any of the following heat-related illness symptoms, always have the person move into a cool area, drink water, and loosen any tight-fitting clothes. Then seek medical attention, or if it’s an emergency, call 911.

Heat Rash:

Also known as “prickly heat,” heat rash is a bumpy, itchy pink rash that covers the body in large patches, usually on skin that is concealed under clothes. It happens in hot, humid conditions when sweat ducts are blocked and then swell, leading to itching and sensitivity. The rash usually calms down once the skin cools off and dries, and can be treated with ice packs and Lanolin cream.

Heat Cramps:

Characterized by intermittent, seizing muscle cramps throughout the body in active people during hot weather, heat cramps can be painful and debilitating. They’re often caused by dehydration and loss of salt. Heat cramps usually subside after moving into a cool environment, resting for several hours, drinking lots of water, and doing some light stretching.

Sun Poisoning:

Although sun poisoning doesn’t mean you’ve actually been poisoned by the sun, it does mean you have a severe sunburn that should be evaluated by a medical professional. It includes symptoms that go beyond a “normal” sunburn, like:

  • Blisters that cover a large area and are extremely painful
  • Fever and chills
  • Facial swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness, confusion, or terrible headache
  • Dehydration

Heat Exhaustion:

Heat exhaustion can be viewed as the “precursor” to heat stroke. If it’s treated in this stage, it usually won’t advance to heat stroke or become life-threatening. Look for signs such as:

  • Muscle cramps or body aches
  • Cool, clammy skin and heavy sweating
  • Dizziness, fainting, or fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Weak, fast heartbeat
  • Dehydration
  • Headache

Heat Stroke:

The most serious of all heat-related illnesses, heatstroke can be deadly — if left untreated, it could shut down vital organ operations and brain function. Heat stroke requires urgent medical attention at the first sign of symptoms. Here are some common heat stroke symptoms to watch for:

  • Fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher (this is usually the most common sign)
  • Confusion, irritability, or short-term memory loss
  • Trouble walking, standing, or sitting upright
  • Either an absence of sweating or profuse sweating
  • Rapid breathing or feeling of constriction in the throat
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Intense dehydration (dark-colored urine)
  • Pounding headache
  • Nausea and vomiting

Ways To Beat The Heat

On a hot day, not everyone has access to sit at home in the air conditioning or jump in a swimming pool. Here are a few effective and affordable ways for heat related illness prevention:

1. Heat-Related Illnesses: Prevention is always the best defense

When you’re outside, stay in the shade whenever possible, and always wear sunscreen of at least SPF 30. Take extra care with vulnerable people like small children and the elderly. Never leave anyone alone — including your pets — in a car or other hot, confined spaces, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

2. Check the air quality where you live

Before going outside for the day, check the air quality. The Air Quality Index (AQI), which runs from 0 to 500, lets you know how clean or polluted the air is in your current location. The higher the AQI value, the less optimal the air quality. You can use this handy information to plan your day, including how much time you’ll want to spend outside.

3. Limit your outdoor activity to early morning and late evening

If you want or need to be active outside during the summer, do so before 10:00 am and after 6:00 pm. On days of extreme heat, consider foregoing your outdoor activities altogether, or do them as close to sunrise or sunset as possible.

4. Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting, and sun protecting clothing. 

Clothes made from 100% cotton fabric are the best bet, as they are highly breathable. Also, consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat or use an umbrella (they’re not just for rainy days!).

5. Drink water constantly

Dehydration and lack of salt contribute to heat-related illnesses. Drink water or an electrolyte-replenishing fluid every 15 to 20 minutes, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they will only dehydrate you further.

9. Don’t forget your pets

Be sure all animals have plenty of fresh water and are indoors (or if they must be outside, make sure they’re able to move out of direct sunlight).

Remember that heat-related illnesses are largely preventable. Getting in the habit now of drinking lots of water, staying cool, and taking breaks from outdoor activities will make it much easier to cope and feel your best when the next heatwave hits.

For more essential tips on how you and your family can stay safe and healthy this summer, check out all of Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups’ helpful articles.

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