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  • Writer's pictureDr. Thomas Bailey, MD

Stay Safe from the Heat

With the start of summer comes an increase in heat related illnesses across the country.  To stay safe from the heat you need to be aware of the four major types of heat illnesses:


·       Heat rash

·       Heat cramps

·       Heat exhaustion

·       Heat stroke



Heat rash is the least serious of the four.  It happens when excess sweat blocks your sweat glands and leads to red, itchy skin, commonly with small bumps or blisters developing.  It is different from a sunburn.



With heat cramps, your muscles will cramp due to loss of fluids and electrolytes.  Spasms in your legs, arms or abdomen may occur.  Skin will usually remain moist and cool, and most importantly, your body temperature remains normal.



Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are more severe.  With heat exhaustion, you may have rapid and shallow breathing, headache, a rapid heartbeat or nausea and vomiting.  Some people may even become dizzy and faint.  With heat stroke, the core body temperature rises above 104 degrees F.  People will become disoriented and confused, with hallucinations, slurring of speech and possibly hallucinations.  It is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.




Treatment of each type of heat illness is different and is summarized as follows:


·       Heat rash-get to a cool environment, dry off your skin and apply cold compresses

·       Heat cramps-drink cool water or sports drinks with electrolytes (Gatorade, PowerAde) and rest

·       Heat exhaustion-obtain immediate shade or get inside to a cool environment.  Sip cold water, apply cold compresses to your skin and spray yourself with a cool mist while a fan cools you down.  Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency facility.

·       Heat stroke-Call 911.  Get immediately out of the heat and use water mists and fans with or without ice packs to lower the body temperature.  Older patients have a high chance of severe illness and death if trying to sit in an ice water bath, so if you are older DO NOT attempt this.




Heat related illness can be easily prevented by following these simple steps:


·       Drink water frequently, about every 15 minutes when in a hot environment, even if you are not thirsty.

·       Refrain from using alcohol or caffeinated drinks in the heat.  These will tend to dehydrate you quicker.

·       Take frequent breaks in the shade or inside an air conditioned space.

·       Wear loose, lightweight clothing.  Heavy layers of clothing prevent your body from being able to use its natural cooling mechanism, sweating, from cooling you down.

·       Avoid being outdoors during the hottest times of the day (10 AM to 4PM) if possible.




Remember these tips to stay safe and healthy this summer!

a man with heat exhaustion feeling ill

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