Published on June 26, 2022

Keep Your Cool

Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses

Young boy playing at the park

Summer is officially here — and triple-digit heat is in full effect. These warm days can bring about many adventures as families hit the trails and the parks.

But these steamy days can pose threats. Extreme heat often results in the highest annual number of deaths among all weather-related disasters, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Emergency medicine physician James Moore, M.D., goes over two common heat-related illnesses and how we can stay safe during the scorching temperatures.

“Heat stroke can be characterized by the body’s inability to cope with excessive heat and a breakdown of its normal defense mechanisms. This is a serious medical condition that can be fatal.”

Common Culprits

Every year, several people suffer from heat exhaustion and heat stroke. While the conditions are similar, they’re different, Moore said. Heat exhaustion is the body’s normal response to prolonged exposure to a hot environment or increased activity in a hot environment. Folks who suffer from this condition may experience heavy sweating, rapid heart rate, muscle cramps, nausea, dizziness and cool, clammy skin.

If someone you know displays these symptoms, Moore recommends moving the person to a cool, shaded area. Then remove excess clothing and apply cool, wet towels to the person’s body and provide cool fluids to drink. If the person does not improve or symptoms worsen, seek medical attention. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke — which is a medical emergency.

So what is heat stroke? “Heat stroke can be characterized by the body’s inability to cope with excessive heat and a breakdown of its normal defense mechanisms. This is a serious medical condition that can be fatal,” Moore added.

When the body reaches this level, it’s unable to sweat — leading to an elevated core body temperature, usually above 104 degrees. The outcome? Folks may experience confusion, dizziness, vomiting, muscle breakdown and even seizures. If you or someone you know shows these symptoms, get to the nearest emergency department, so medications can be administered, Moore said.

“Heat exhaustion can usually be treated at home,” he added. “Heat stroke often requires a visit to the emergency department and a possible admission to the hospital. Doctors will provide medications and use other measures to bring down the body temperature.”

They may also use sedatives to prevent shivering from cold water treatment and check levels in the blood to make sure muscle breakdown or kidney failure do not ensue, Moore said.

“While anyone can suffer from heat-related illnesses, these are most common among young children and older adults, people with disabilities, those who work outside, and those who don’t have the proper resources to escape the heat.”

Who’s Most at Risk?

While anyone can suffer from heat-related illnesses, they are most common among young children and older adults, people with disabilities, those who work outside and those who don’t have the proper resources to escape the heat.

To stay safe, Moore recommends you:

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the summer days.
  • Exercise in the mornings or evenings when temperatures are cooler.
  • Stay inside and wear loose fitting clothing during heat waves.
  • Take heat warnings seriously and plan ahead for a “cool haven” if needed.
  • Never leave children, older adults or pets in parked cars. It can take as little as 10 minutes for the temperature inside a car to reach dangerous levels.