Andrew J. Siegel, M.D.

Research shows the number of heat-related illnesses increases over the summer. Heat fatigue, heat-related dizziness, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat strokes are all forms of hyperthermia. The condition occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and is unable to control its temperature.

Who is at risk for a heat-related illness?

Children, teens and the elderly have a hard time adjusting to changes in environmental heat. They also produce more heat with activity than adults and sweat less.

Your health and lifestyle may raise the threat of a heat-related illness, which includes:

  • Poor circulation, inefficient sweat glands, and changes in the skin caused by normal aging
  • Heart, lung, kidney disease and any illness that causes weakness or fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Inability to sweat caused by drugs, such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and certain heart and blood pressure medicines
  • Being substantially overweight or underweight
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages

What are the warning signs?

Heat-related illnesses require immediate medical attention. The warning signs include:

  • Fever (generally above 104 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Confusion or combativeness
  • Strong, rapid pulse
  • Dry, flushed skin
  • Lack of sweating
  • Feeling faint
  • Staggering
  • Coma

What are ways to keep cool?

When temperatures spike, older adults with chronic health issues like heart disease and diabetes should stay indoors. If they do not have air conditioning, they should visit cool locations such as the library.

For adults and kids, here are other ways to stay cool without air conditioning:

  • Open your windows at night.
  • Create a cross breeze by opening windows on opposite sides of the room or house.
  • Cover windows when they’re in direct sunlight.
  • Keep curtains, shades, or blinds drawn during the hottest part of the day.
  • Dampen your clothing with water and sit in the breeze from a fan
  • Take cool baths or showers
  • Spend at least 2 hours a day (the hottest part, if possible) in an air-conditioned place like the movies or mall.

Treatment options for heat-related illnesses

If a person is experiencing a heat stroke, it is important to call 911 immediately. A heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness and is a life-threatening emergency. It is the result of long, extreme exposure to the sun. It is important for the person to be treated immediately as heat stroke can cause permanent damage or death.

Here are a few things you can do while waiting for help to arrive:

  • Get the person to a shaded area.
  • Remove clothing and gently apply cool water to the skin followed by fanning to stimulate sweating
  • Apply ice packs to the groin and armpits
  • Have the person lie down in a cool area with their feet slightly elevated
  • Cool the person rapidly however you can

If you live in a hot climate and have a chronic condition, talk to your healthcare provider about extra precautions you can take to protect yourself against heat stroke.

Click here to visit Touro’s Health Library to learn more about heat-related illnesses, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

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