Understanding Heat Related Illness
Heat kills an average of 1,500 people every year in the United States. That’s more than all the lives claimed by tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, lightning and other weather-related events combined, according to the National Weather Service.
Extreme heat can make you sick by raising your body’s temperature to an unhealthy level. The elderly, young children and infants, and people with special health conditions are particularly at risk for a heat-related illness, but anyone can be in danger during periods of high heat and humidity.
The more you know about heat-related illness, the better prepared you’ll be when the thermometer reaches the triple digits.
Heat cramps are painful spasms that occur mostly in the muscles of your legs and abdomen during heavy exercise or activity. Heat cramps usually cause heavy sweating as well as pain.
If you have heat cramps:
- Apply firm but gentle pressure on the cramping muscles.
- Gently massage to relieve any muscle spasms.
- Drink small sips of water but stop if you begin to feel nauseous.
- Check with your doctor if you have fluid restrictions or are a dialysis patient to see if further treatment is needed.
Heat exhaustion is an illness that causes heavy sweating, fast, weak pulse and rapid breathing. Nausea, vomiting, dizziness and fainting are all symptoms of heat exhaustion.
If you think you have heat exhaustion:
- Get out of the sun, loosen your clothing and lay down.
- Apply cool wet cloths to your forehead and wrists.
- Rest in an air-conditioned room or use a fan to cool down.
- Drink sips of water but stop if you begin to feel nauseous.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening illness that can cause your body’s temperature to rise to more than 106° in a matter of minutes. Signs of heat stroke include throbbing headache, confusion, nausea and dizziness. Heavy sweating is a common symptom, but heat stroke can also cause your skin to be hot and dry.
Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency! Do not hesitate to call for help. Delay can be fatal. If you think you have heat stroke, call 9-1-1 for emergency medical assistance.
While you wait for help to arrive:
- Move to a cool, preferably air-conditioned space.
- Lower your body temperature with a water mister, fan, or cool water and a sponge.
- Use an air conditioner whenever possible if heat index temperatures reach 90° and above.
- Use extreme caution and do not delay getting treatment!