Preventing Heat-Related Illness
Follow these tips to stay safe when the heat gets too hot to handle.

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Preventing Heat-Related Illness

Summer brings lots of opportunities for outdoor fun for many people. But when the heat gets extreme, that fun can turn harmful or even life-threatening if proper precautions aren't taken.

Most heat-related health problems are preventable. A few safety steps may help you avoid a problem in the first place. When it's extremely hot outdoors, you should keep these important tactics in mind. Health experts say:

  • Stay cool. Stay in air-conditioned areas as much as you can. Your community may offer access to air-conditioned shelters for those without the ability to stay cool. Fans alone may not offer enough relief. Avoid being out in the direct sun.
  • Stay hydrated. You may need to drink more water than you're used to. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. Experts recommend drinking two to four cups of water every hour when working outdoors or being active outside. Remind others to stay hydrated.
  • Stay informed about the weather. Outdoor fun requires planning, so stay on top of expected weather conditions and take the right protective measures to deal with any extreme heat. Watch for weather alerts on local news reports.

What other precautions can you take?
Avoid drinking alcohol or drinks that contain lots of sugar.

  • Wear clothing that is loose, lightweight and light-colored.
  • Take cool showers or baths.
  • Avoid using the oven or stove to cook foods, as this can make both you and your home hotter.

Who might be at special risk?
People who are most vulnerable can include seniors 65 and older, infants and children, those with certain chronic health conditions, athletes and outdoor workers. Check on these people twice a day, or more often if you think conditions warrant it.

For some people, a buddy plan might come in handy, with neighbors taking turns checking on the other. Make sure they're protecting themselves against heat-related problems.

Questions to ask

  • Are they drinking plenty of water?
  • Are they able to be in air-conditioned areas?
  • Do they know the steps to take to stay cool?

What to watch for
Warning signs of heat illness are not the same in everyone. Seek medical care immediately if you have, or someone you know has, symptoms of heat-related illness. Signs can include muscle cramps, headaches, nausea or vomiting. Other signs could be heavy sweating, feeling weak, skin that is cold, pale or clammy, or a fast or a weak pulse.

Severe symptoms can include a body temperature above 103 degrees F, skin that is hot, red, dry or moist, a quick and strong pulse, or possible unconsciousness. If these signs are present, call 911 for emergency medical assistance right away.

Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have provided a helpful overview of heat-related illness and when to seek immediate help. Go to

Scientists predict that as our climate changes, extreme heat events are likely to become more frequent, longer lasting and more severe. These occurrences should be seen as a serious public health issue.

Remember, preventive steps can help you avoid heat-related problems. Take care to keep yourself or anyone you know out of harm's way when temperatures rise to extreme levels.

By Ginny Greene, Editor
Created on 08/07/2001
Updated on 07/01/2013
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Extreme heat and your health.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s hot outside!
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Warning signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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