Questions About Extreme Heat Answered

1.    What happens to the body as a result of exposure to extreme heat?
People suffer heat-related illnesses when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded.  The body normally cools itself by sweating.  But, under some conditions, sweating is just not enough.  Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.  Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather.  When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing the heat quickly.  Other conditions that can limit your ability to regulate your body temperature include old age, youth (ages 0-4) obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, prescription medications and alcohol use.

2.    Who is at the greatest risk for heat-related illnesses?
Those at greatest risk include infants and children up to age 4, people 65 years and over, overweight people or people on chronic medications or with chronic diseases.

3.    What is Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness.  Body temperatures can rise quickly, sometimes in 10-15 minutes, as high as 106 degrees.  Death or permanent disability can occur if not treated immediately.

4.    Warning signs of a Heat Stroke
Warning signs may vary, but may include the following:

  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103  degrees F)
  • Red, hot and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

5.    What should I do if I see someone with any of the warning signs of Heat stroke?
If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with 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.  For example, immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray him/her with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him/her vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102 degrees
  • If emergency personnel are delayed, call an Emergency room for further instructions.
  • Do NOT give the victim alcohol to drink
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.

6.    What is Heat Exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.  Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, those with high blood pressure and those working or exercising in a hot environment.

7.    Warning signs of Heat Exhaustion
The warning signs of heat exhaustion include the following:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

The skin may be cool and moist.  The pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will  fast and shallow.  If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke.  Seek medical attention if symptoms persist more than one hour.

8.    What steps can be taken to cool the body during heat exhaustion?

  • Drink cool,nonalcoholic beverages
  • Rest
  • Take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath
  • Seek an air-conditioned environment
  • Wear lightweight clothing

9.    What are heat cramps and who is affected?
Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms – usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs – that may occur in association with strenuous activity.  People who sweat a lot during strenuous activity are prone to heat cramps.  This sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture.  The low salt level in the muscle causes painful cramps.  Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.  If you have heart problems or are on a low sodium diet, seek medical attention for heat cramps.

10.    What should I do if I have heat cramps?

  • STOP all activity and sit quietly in a cool place
  • Drink a clear juice or sports beverage
  • Do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke
  • Seek medical attention for heat cramps if they do not subside in 1 hour

11.    Can medications increase the risk of heat-related illness?
The risk for heat-related illness and death may increase among people using the following medications:

  • Psychotropics, which affect psychic function, behavior or experience (such as haloperidol or chlorpromazine)
  • Medications for Parkinson’s Disease, because the inhibit perspiration
  • Tranquilizers, such as phenothiazines, butyrophenones, and thiozanthenes
  • Diuretic medications or “water pills” because they affect the body’s fluid balance

12.    How effective are electric fans in preventing heat-related illness?
While electic fans may provide comfort, but they will NOT prevent heat-related illness.  Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.

13.    How can people protect their health when temperatures are extremely high?
Remember to KEEP COOL and Use common sense.  Drink plenty of fluid, replace salts and minerals (with sports drinks), wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen, pace yourself, stay cool indoors, schedule outdoor activities carefully, use a buddy system.

14.    How much should I drink during hot weather?
During hot weather, you need to drink more liquid than your thirst indicates.  Increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level.  During heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink 2-4 glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour.  AVOID alcohol drink, because they will cause you to lose more fluid.

15.    What about salt tablets?

DO NOT take salt tablets unless directed to do so by your doctor.  The easiest and safest way to replace the loss of salts and minerals is through your diet.  Drink fruit juice or a sports beverage when you exercise or work in the heat.


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