The Exchange

Commentary and Observations from
the Medical Front Lines

<a href='/the-exchange/beat-the-heat'>Beat the Heat</a>

Beat the Heat

Your body may be unable to cool itself in hot temperatures, which could lead to a heat stroke or heat exhaustion. This is very common in the summer months. Heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable. More than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat each year. Males are more often affected than females, and those living in urban areas may be at a greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than those living in rural areas.

Know the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion:

Heat Stroke

  • Very high body temperature (>103° F)
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Upset stomach
  • Confusion
  • Fainting

Heat Exhaustion

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

We need to educate our patients to:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, regardless of activity; not to wait until they get thirsty
    • Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar (these cause body fluid loss)
    • Avoid very cold drinks (may cause stomach cramps)
  • Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
  • Apply sunscreen SPF 15 or higher
  • Stay in the shade
  • Limit time outdoors; take breaks often
  • Stay cool in an air-conditioned area
  • Check on friends and neighbors at high risk for heat-related illnesses

If you suspect heat stroke:

  • Move to a shady area or indoors
  • Do not give fluids
  • Cool the body by:
    • a cool bath or shower (not cold)
    • spraying with a garden hose
    • sponging with cool water
    • fanning
  • Continue until help arrives or body temperature falls below 102° F

If you suspect heat exhaustion:

  • Advise to get medical attention if symptoms get worse or last longer than one hour
  • Cool the body by:
    • drinking cool, nonalcoholic beverages
    • rest
    • a cool bath (not cold), shower, or sponge bath
    • moving to an air-conditioned area
    • changing into lightweight clothing

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some useful resources that you can share with your patients:

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