Exposure to severe or prolonged amounts of heat without relief or adequate fluid intake can cause various forms of heat-related illness.
In normal circumstances, the body usually cools itself by sweating. But in very hot weather, especially when it’s humid as well, sweating cannot do enough to cool you off. The result is that your body temperature can rise to dangerous levels, and you may develop a heat-related illness.
The following are the five most common heat-related illnesses to be aware of as the temperatures keep rising. Know the symptoms and learn what to do if you or a loved one experiences one of these conditions.
Heat cramps consist of painful muscle cramps and spasms that occur during or after intense exercise and sweating in environments high in heat. These cramps commonly occur in the legs and might be accompanied by flushed, moist skin.
To treat the condition, move to a cool place, rest, remove excess clothing, place cool cloths on the skin, fan the body, drink cool sports drinks (with salts and sugars), and stretch out the cramped muscles.
Heat exhaustion is a more severe version of heat cramps and results when the body loses large amounts of water and salt. It occurs in situations of extreme heat and excessive sweating, in which adequate fluid and salt replacement cannot be found.
Symptoms include muscle cramps, pale or moist skin, a fever over 100° F (or 34° C), nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fatigue and weakness, faintness and anxiety. To combat heat exhaustion, follow the same directions as for heat cramps. But if no improvement occurs or the person is unable to consume fluids, visit an emergency department immediately because IV (intravenous) fluids may be necessary.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to the more grave state: heat stroke.
Heat stroke, the most severe form of heat illness, occurs when the body’s heat-regulating system is overcome by disproportionate heat.
Symptoms of heat stroke may include warm or dry skin, a fever over 104° F (or 40° C), rapid heart rate, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, headache, fatigue, confusion, agitation, and lethargy and stupor. Seizures, coma and death, though not likely, are possible.
As with heat cramps and exhaustion, move to a cool place and rest, remove excess clothing, drench skin with cool water, and fan the body. If the person is alert and able to drink, offer them cool fluids. Place ice bags on the armpits and groin areas.
Lastly, be sure to call 911 or your local emergency medical service. Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency and needs to be treated by a doctor immediately.
Sunburns are painful, red patches of skin. The area of the burn will usually be warm, and might even develop into blisters.
Perhaps this description sounds familiar: That’s because almost everyone has been sunburned or will be sunburned at some point in their lives. Sunburn is possible any time of year but is more common in the summer when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
But just because it is widespread does not mean that sunburns are harmless. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation found that one or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence can more than double a person’s chance of developing melanoma later in life.
To treat sunburns, stay out of the sun, use cool cloths or take a cool bath, put moisturizing lotion on sunburned areas, and do not break the blisters. Do your best to avoid getting another burn, which can heighten your chances of developing cancer.
Heat rash appears as red clusters of small blisters that look like pimples on the skin. The bunches can usually be found on the neck, chest, groin, or in elbow creases. Heat rash occurs when the skin’s sweat glands are blocked up and the sweat produced cannot get to the surface to evaporate (as it does usually). This causes inflammation that results in the appearance of a rash.
As you wait for the condition to correct itself, stay in a cool and dry place, keep the rash dry, and use powder (i.e. baby powder) to soothe the rash while it lasts.