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Recognize the signs of heat illness

heat illnessHot weather poses some serious risks, especially on days with high humidity. These are the times when your body’s normally efficient cooling system (aka sweating) might not be enough to prevent heat-related illness. Learn to recognize the symptoms of the various illnesses, how serious they are and what you can do about them:

  • Heat rash. More common in children, this skin rash develops due to excessive sweating during hot, humid weather.

    What you can do: Heat rash typically isn’t a condition that requires medical attention. Moving to a cooler location and keeping the skin dry can help calm the irritation.

  • Heat cramps. When sweating depletes your body’s salt and moisture (such as during exercise in hot weather), you may experience muscle pain or spasms in such areas as the abdomen, arms or legs.

    What you can do: Medical attention is recommended if you suffer from heart problems or are on a low-sodium diet. For others, stop the activity and rest in a cool location (and continue to rest for a few hours to avoid a progression to heat exhaustion or heat stroke), drink clear juice or a sports beverage and seek medical attention if your cramps persist for more than an hour.

  • Heat exhaustion. Most common in the elderly, those with high blood pressure and people who work or exercise in hot temperatures, heat exhaustion can occur after several days of high temperatures or inadequate fluid intake. Heavy sweating, paleness, cool/moist skin, muscle cramps, fast/shallow breathing, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, fast/weak pulse rate, headache, nausea/vomiting and fainting may occur.

    What you can do: If you have severe symptoms or have heart problems or high blood pressure, seek medical attention immediately. For others, cool off—drink a cool, nonalcoholic beverage; rest, take a cool shower or bath; sit in air conditioning; and change to lightweight clothing.

  • Heat stroke. When the body can no longer regulate its temperature, heat stroke may occur. With heat stroke, sweating ceases and body temperature rises fast—possibly to 106°F or higher within a matter of minutes. Symptoms include a very high body temperature (above 103°F); red, hot, dry skin; rapid, strong pulse; pounding headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; and loss of consciousness.

    What you can do: Immediate medical treatment is needed; death or disability can occur if heat stroke goes untreated. The person with heat stroke can be cooled down (moved to a cooler area; given a cool immersion bath or shower) while waiting for help to arrive. Monitor the body temperature until it drops to 101–102°F. Do not give the person fluids.