Now that summer is here, it’s important to recognize and protect yourself and your loved ones from the potentially dangerous effects of extreme summer heat. Between 1999 and 2010, 7,415 Americans succumbed to heat-related illnesses, an average of 618 deaths each year. The good news is that heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define “extreme heat” as temperatures and humidity levels much higher than the average for a particular location. Heat-related illness occurs when body temperature is too high and the body cannot cool itself normally through sweating. Very high body temperatures may lead to brain damage or damage to other vital organs which is why it is so important to watch for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness and take precautions to prevent it.

Heat Stroke

This is the most serious heat-related illness and may cause permanent disability or death if medical treatment is not sought immediately. Warning signs of heat stroke include:

  • Extremely high body temperature above 103 degrees
  • Red, hot and dry skin with no sweating
  • Strong, rapid pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Throbbing headache
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

Seek immediate emergency medical attention and cool victims of heat stroke by whatever means available as quickly as possible. Do not give heat stroke victims anything to drink.

Heat Exhaustion

This is a less extreme type of heat-related illness that may occur over the course of several days of heat exposure. Symptoms may include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Paleness
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Pulse may be fast and weak
  • Breathing may be rapid and shallow

Medical attention is not required unless symptoms continue for more than one hour or worsen, which may lead to heat stroke. Give cool liquid to drink (not alcoholic), take a cool shower or bath, seek air conditioning and wear lightweight clothing.

Heat Cramps

These usually occur in the abdomen or extremities as muscle cramps or spasms. Heat cramps frequently occur with vigorous physical activity. Medical attention is usually not necessary unless cramps continue for longer than one hour.

Heat Rash

Most commonly in young children and appears as a red patch of pimples or blisters usually on the neck, chest, groin area, or inside of the elbows, and is caused by excessive sweating. Place heat rash victims in a cooler environment and keep the rash area dry.

People Most At Risk for Heat-Related Illness

Certain populations are at a greater risk for suffering heat-related illnesses:

  • Adults aged 65 and older
  • Infants and children up to 4 years old
  • People suffering with chronic conditions and illnesses
  • People who are overweight
  • Athletes

Other risk factors are:

  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Certain prescription drugs including psychotropics, medications for Parkinson’s disease, tranquilizers, and diuretics
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Heart disease
  • Poor circulation
  • Sunburn
  • Mental illness

Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness

The CDC recommends the following to help prevent heat-related illness:

  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing
  • Stay in air conditioning as much as possible
  • Schedule outdoor activities in the morning and evening hours when temperatures and humidity are lower
  • Always wear sunscreen
  • Don’t exercise in the heat of the day
  • Drink plenty of fluids avoiding alcoholic and sugary drinks
  • Avoid hot and heavy meals which can increase your body temperature
  • Know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness and take necessary precautions

Pets

It’s also important to remember pets are vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat and humidity. Give your pets plenty of water and access to cool and shady places and never leave your pets unattended in cars even if you leave a window cracked open.

Follow these tips and enjoy a safe and happy summer!