Heat-Related Illnesses: What You Can Do to Prevent It

What causes heat-related illness?

Heat-related illnesses, such as "heatstroke" and "sunstroke," occur when you body can't keep itself cool. As the air temperatures rises, your body stays cool when you sweat evaporates. On hot, humid days, you feel uncomfortable because the evaporation of sweat is slowed by the increased moisture in the air. When sweating isn't enough to cool your body, your body temperature rises, and you may become ill. Common symptoms of heat illness are headache, dizziness, muscle weakness or muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting.
In the summer, the weather forecasters often talk about the heat index. What is the heat index?The heat index is not the same as the temperature outside. The heat index, which may be referred to by your local weather forecasters, tells you how hot it feels outside in the shade. The heat index is a measurement of how hot if feels when relative humidity is combined with the effects of the air temperature. When you are standing in full sunshine, the heat index value is even higher. A heat index of 90 degrees F and above is dangerous to your health.
How can I prevent heat illness?

  • Stay indoors in air-conditioned areas when possible.
  • Drink plenty of water before starting an outdoor activity. Drink extra water all day.
  • Drink less tea, coffee and alcoholic beverages.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat or using an umbrella.
  • Increase the time you spend in daily outdoor activities slowly and gradually.
  • Schedule vigorous outdoor activities for cooler times of the day.
  • Don't spend time outdoors during the hottest hours of the day--10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • During an outdoor activity, take frequent breaks and drink water or other fluids every 15 to 20 minutes, even if you don't feel thirsty. If you have clear, pale urine, you are probably drinking enough fluids.
  • If you have a chronic medical problem, ask your doctor about drinking extra fluids and about your medicines.

What should I do if I get the signs of heal illness?

  • Go to a shady, cooler area right away. Remove any excess clothing and begin sponging your body with lukewarm tape water. Slowly sip water or other fluids.

Get medical help right away if you have these warning signs:

  • Hot, dry skin, but not sweaty.
  • Confusion or loss of consciousness.
  • Frequent vomiting.
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing.

This information provides a general overview on heat-related illness and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your physician to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

This information is provided to you by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Lowell General Hospital, 295 Varnum Avenue, Lowell, Massachusetts 01854, Main Telephone: (978) 937-6000
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