The leading heat related illnesses are heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heat rashes, and heat cramps. Be prepared for summer heat and related heat illness:
- Be aware of who is most at risk,
- Know the causes of heat related illness,
- Understand how to treat heat-related illnesses, and
- Learn how to prevent heat related illness.
Who is at risk:
- Infants, young children, and the elderly have lower heat tolerance;
- Athletes, gardeners, outdoor labors and anyone undergoing physical exertion in hot or humid environments;
- Anyone consuming alcohol during the heat of the day;
- Those who are pregnant, obese, or have a chronic illness, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension or respiratory illness; and
- Anyone taking medications that interfere with the body’s ability to cool itself, including antipsychotics, tranquilizers, antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, beta-blockers, some over the counter sleeping pills and diuretic medications or “water pills” that affect fluid balance in the body.
Causes, treatment and prevention of heat-related illness
Heat exhaustion occurs most often when your body gets hot and becomes dehydrated. Normally, the body cools itself by sweating. However, if you are exposed to high temperatures and do not replace the fluids you lose, the body systems that regulate temperature become overwhelmed. As a result, your body produces more heat than it can release. Heat exhaustion requires immediate attention because it can progress to heat stroke, a life threatening illness.
People with heat exhaustion will exhibit:
- Heavy sweating
- Pale, clammy skin
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dizziness, fainting
- Nausea, vomiting
- Muscle and abdominal cramps
- Mild temperature elevations—temperatures above 104 can result in heat stroke.
How to treat heat exhaustion:
- Rest in a cool environment (a shady spot or, better, an air-conditioned room),
- Drink cool (not icy) water, juice, or beverages that contain electrolytes, and
- Cool down by spraying the body with water.
- How to prevent heat exhaustion
- Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after the activity.
- Drink beverages with high concentrations of electrolytes and potassium because water does not replace the potassium and salt lost through sweating.
- Drink 16 ounces of water 30 minutes before exercising and continue to hydrate every 20 minutes.
- Stay in cool or air-conditioned spaces when possible on hot days.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Exercise or work outdoors in the early morning or evening,
- Wear loose, lightweight clothing.
Heat stroke follows heat exhaustion. Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs as the body is unable to control its core temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes.
People suffering heat stroke will exhibit:
- Very high body temperature-above 104 degrees;
- Red, hot, dry skin (no sweating);
- Dry swollen tongue;
- Rapid pulse;
- Throbbing headache;
- Dizziness, confusion, nausea;
- Fainting; and
- Eventual unconsciousness.
- Get the victim to a shady area.
- Cool the victim rapidly using a tub of cool water, a garden hose or sponge to cool the victim’s body,
- Provide water and beverages high in potassium and electrolytes,
- Get medical assistance as soon as possible—you can call a hospital emergency room for more instructions until help arrives.
- Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
How to prevent heat stroke
- Drink plenty of water and include drinks high in electrolytes.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages
- Reduce physical activity in hot weather, and do exercise, gardening, and other vigorous activities to later in the day.
- When doing physical activities, take frequent breaks
- Stay cool and keep air circulating around you.
- Eat regular, light meals.
- Wear lightweight clothing.
- If you are feeling overheated, take a cool bath or shower.
Heat cramps are spasms in the abdomen, arms, or legs resulting from activity. The sweating that occurs depletes the body’s salt and moisture, and the lower salt levels in the muscles causes painful cramps.
How to treat heat cramps:
If the person has heart problems or is on a restricted sodium diet, seek medical attention immediately, otherwise:
- Move to a cool place and sit still,
- Drink water, juice, and beverages with potassium and high in electrolytes
- Do not resume activity for several hours after the cramps subside;
- If heat cramps last more than one hour, seek medical attention.
How to prevent heat cramps
- Drink water and beverages high in potassium and electrolytes,
- Take frequent breaks and move to a shaded area,
- Wear loose fitting clothing, and
- Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest hours of the day.
Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. Red clusters of pimples or small blisters characterize heat rash. Heat rash occurs most often in young children, but can affect any age group.
How to treat heat rash
- Keep the affected area dry,
- Use baby powder, body powder, or cornstarch to increase comfort,
- Keep the person in a cool, less humid environment until the heat rash subsides.
How to prevent heat rash
- Wear loose fitting clothing, avoiding elastic at the waistband, arms, or legs.
- Change clothes after exercising or playing.
Summer in St. Louis is typically hot and humid. Temperatures during the summer average 88 degrees, but are often much higher. Because of this, most events, concerts, and street fairs have tents available to people who become overheated. Make sure you know where the tent is when attending a summer event in St. Louis.
CDC Heat related FAQ