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County Home => Health => Epi Center Home => Illness, Injury, & Safety Information => Weather => Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses

Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses

Summer heat waves can be dangerous. People normally cool their bodies by sweating, but under some conditions, sweating isn't enough. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs. Some conditions that can limit the ability to regulate temperature include old age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, poor circulation, sunburn, and drug and alcohol use. Summertime activity, whether on the playing field or the construction site, must be done in a way to aid the body's cooling mechanisms and prevent heat-related illness.

Protecting Yourself Against Heat-Related Illnesses

  1. Drink Plenty of Fluid - Even If You Don't Feel Thirsty
    • Increase your fluid intake regardless of your activity level.
    • During heavy exercise in hot weather, drink 2-4 glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour.
    • Consult with your doctor if you have been prescribed a fluid-restricted diet or diuretics. During hot weather, you will need to drink more liquid than your thirst indicates. This is especially true for those over 65 years of age.
    • Avoid very cold beverages to prevent stomach cramps or drinks containing alcohol, which will actually cause you to lose more fluid.
  2. Stay Cool Indoors
    • The most efficient way to beat the heat is to stay in an air conditioned area.
    • If you do not have an air conditioner or evaporative cooling unit, consider a visit to a shopping mall or public library for a few hours.
    • Do not rely on electric fans as your primary cooling device during a heat wave. When the temperature is in the high 90s or higher, a fan will not prevent heat-related illness. A cool shower or bath is a more effective way to cool off. Wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
    • Limit physical activity (e.g., cleaning house)
  3. Stay Cool Outdoors
    • Plan activities so that you are outdoors either before noon or in the evening.
    • In the hot sun, a wide-brimmed hat will keep the head cool.
    • While outdoors, rest frequently in a shady area.
    • Limit physical activity (e.g., sports)
    • Limit time spent in places with potential for severe exposure (e.g., beaches)
  4. Monitor Those at High Risk
    • If you are 65 years of age or older, have a friend or relative call to check on you twice a day during a heat wave. If you know anyone in this age group, check on them at least twice a day.
    • When working in the heat, monitor the condition of your coworkers and have someone do the same for you.
  5. Pace Yourself
    • If you are unaccustomed to working or exercising in hot weather, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually.
    • If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, stop all activity, get into a cool or shady area, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or feel faint.
  6. Use Common Sense
    • Do not leave infants, children, or pets in a parked car.
    • Bring your pets indoors with you to protect them.
    • Give your outdoor animals plenty of fresh water, leave the water in a shady area, and consider wetting the animal down.

Heat-Related Illnesses - Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion

Those at greatest risk include:
  • Infants and children up to four years of age
  • People 65 years of age or older
  • People who overexert during work or exercise
  • People who are ill or on certain medications
  • People who are overweight.
Heat stroke occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature
  • Body temperature rises rapidly (can get to 106 degrees or higher)
  • Sweating mechanism fails
  • Body is unable to cool down.
  • Can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.
Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include:
  • Extremely high body temperature (above 103°F, orally)
  • Unconsciousness
  • Dizziness, nausea, and confusion
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache.

Heat exhaustion is the body's response to an excessive loss of water and salt contained in sweat.

Warning signs of heat exhaustion vary but may include:
  • Heavy sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Paleness, tiredness, dizziness.
What to do - This could be a life-threatening emergency!
  • Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the victim:
    • Get the victim to a shady area.
    • Cool the victim rapidly using whatever methods you can (immerse in tub of cool water; place in a cool shower; spray with cool water from a garden hose; sponge with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously)
  • Monitor body temperature, and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
  • If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
  • Do not give the victim alcohol to drink.
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
This information was adapted from www.lacoa.org/esp.htm and Mono County Public Health Mono-Gram and provided by Phil Ulibarri, Public Information Officer with the Washoe County Health District.