As the temperature rises, your chance of falling victim to heat illness also rises. There are 3 stages of heat related illness; heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Below is more information on the three stages and what you can do to prepare and prevent heat-related illness.
What are heat cramps?
Heat cramps are the first stage of heat-related illness. Heat cramps are characterized by involuntary muscle spasms/cramps, profuse sweating, and dizziness. Heat cramps can be difficult to pinpoint because your pulse and respiration may be normal.
If you think you have heat cramps:
- Get out of the heat, sit in a cool place
- Massage cramps with ice
- Drink water or diluted electrolyte drinks
What is heat exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can happen when your body is dehydrated and you’ve been exposed to high temperatures for a long period of time. Those at highest risk for heat exhaustion are older adults, people with high blood pressure and people working or exercising when it is hot out.
Signs of heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy sweating
- Feeling weak and/or confused
- Cool/clammy skin
- Fast heartbeat and/or rapid, shallow breaths
If you think you have heat exhaustion:
- Get out of the heat quickly. Rest in an air-conditioned building. If you can’t get inside, find a cool, shady place.
- Remove wet clothing
- Drink plenty of water or other fluids. Do NOT drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks.
- Take a cool shower or bath, or put cool water on your skin.
If you do not feel better within 30 minutes, call your doctor. If heat exhaustion is not treated, it can progress to heatstroke.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke happens when your body temperature reaches 104 degrees or higher due to high heat, high humidity and/or long periods of strenuous exercise. Unlike heat exhaustion, heat stroke is a much more serious and can cause harm to your organs and brain, or even death if medical attention is not available right away.
Signs of heat stroke include:
- High fever
- Very bad headache
- Dizziness and feeling light-headed
- A flushed or reddish coloring in the skin
- Lack of sweating
- Muscle weakness or cramps
- Throwing up
- Fast heartbeat
- Fast or shallow breathing
- Feeling confused, nervous, or disoriented
If you’re showing signs of heat stroke or think someone else might have heatstroke, get medical attention right away or call 911. Here are some things you can do to help cool down while waiting for help:
- Get someone to help you into an air-conditioned building, or a cool, shady place.
- Remove any clothing you don’t need to help cool down.
- Get someone to fan you while wetting the skin with water.
- Put ice packs in the following areas — armpits, groin, neck and back.
Preventing heat illness
To avoid heat illness be sure to stay cool when the temperature rises. If the weather report points to a high heat index, you should stay indoors, in air-conditioned areas when possible.
If you must go outside, take these precautions:
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
- Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat or using an umbrella.
- Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more.
- Drink plenty of water before going outside.
- Drink extra water all day.
- Replace salt lost through sweating by drinking diluted electrolyte drinks.
More on Hydration:
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, to avoid dehydration, active people should drink at least 16- 20 ounces of fluid (water or a sugar free electrolyte drink) one to two hours before an outdoor activity. After that, you should consume 6 to 12 ounces of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes that you are outside. When you are finished with the activity, you should drink more. How much more? To replace what you have lost: at least another 16 to 24 ounces (2- 3 cups).
Be safe and stay cool.