Staying safe when it’s hot outside
July 2023 was the hottest month on record, with weeks of temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in several states in the U.S. and record highs in parts of Europe and China. With very high temperatures and high humidity, it’s important to take proactive steps to lower your risk of heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
While everyone is at risk for health consequences from extreme heat, some people’s risk is higher due to health conditions and other factors, including:
- Heart disease
- Poor circulation
- Lung disease
- Mental illness
Other factors that can make you more vulnerable to the effects of high temperatures include dehydration, taking certain medications (including some antidepressants, ADHD medications, diuretics, antipsychotics, antihistamines, beta blockers, and anticholinergics), sunburn, and alcohol use (alcohol consumption can increase dehydration). Heat can also have an especially big impact on babies, young children, and older adults.
How to prepare for extreme heat
Taking proactive steps when high temperatures are forecasted can help you lower your risk of heat-related illness. If your home isn’t air conditioned, cool showers and baths can help lower your body temperature. You can also spend time in public places that are air conditioned like the mall, library, or cooling centers operated by the state, county, or local government in your community. To find a cooling center near you, you can call 2-1-1.
Other strategies to reduce your risk of heat-related illness include:
- Skipping outdoor activities when possible or scheduling them for early in the morning or evening when it may be cooler
- Trying to stay in the shade when outdoors
- Wearing lightweight, light colored, loose fitting clothes made of breathable fabrics, a broad brimmed hat, and sunglasses
- Wearing sunscreen to avoid sunburn, which can make it harder for your body to cool itself
- Staying hydrated and avoiding drinks that can increase your risk of dehydration like alcohol, high sugar drinks, and caffeinated beverages. If your doctor has advised limiting your fluid intake because of kidney disease, heart disease, or another health condition, ask how much you should drink to stay safely hydrated.
- Replacing minerals and salts you lose through sweat by drinking lower sugar sports drinks or other beverages with electrolytes. If you’re on a low salt diet, or have diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic health problems, talk to your doctor about safe ways to replenish minerals and salts.
Signs of heat-related illness
There are different levels of severity for heat-related illness. The least severe is heat rash, a red skin rash that stings. The next level is heat cramps. These are painful muscle cramps that can happen when you’re exercising or working outside in high temperatures.
The more severe forms of heat-related illness are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Overall feeling of weakness
- Heavy sweating
- Weak, fast pulse or heart rate
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy; fainting
- Cold, pale, clammy skin
- Dark colored urine due to dehydration
If someone has heat exhaustion symptoms, take them to a shady place or a cool place indoors. Take off any tight or extra clothing. Elevate their legs to increase blood flow to the heart. Apply cool cloths to the skin and provide water or a sports drink to sip slowly. If symptoms don’t improve, their body temperature is still 102 or more after half an hour, or they show any of the signs of heat stroke listed below, call 911.
Heat stroke symptoms include:
- Body temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- Strong, rapid pulse or heart rate
- Lack of sweating
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Confusion and/or agitation
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Hot, red, dry or moist skin
- Trouble breathing
- Decreased urination
Heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.