Frequently Asked Questions about
- What happens to the body as a
result of exposure to extreme heat?
People suffer heat-related illness when the body’s temperature
control system is overloaded. The body normally cools itself by
sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough.
In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. 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 heat
quickly. Other conditions that can limit the ability to regulate
temperature include old age, youth (age 0-4), obesity, fever,
dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation,
sunburn, and prescription drug use and alcohol use.
- Who is at greatest risk for
Those at greatest risk for heat-related illness include infants and
children up to four years of age, people 65 years of age and older,
people who are overweight, and people who are ill or on certain
- What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when
the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s
temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the
body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or
higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or
permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
- What are the warning signs of a
Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:
- An extremely high body temperature
- Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
- 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. Do the following:
- 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 the victim
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 or her vigorously.
- Monitor body temperature and continue
cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
- If emergency medical personnel are
delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
- Do not give the victim alcohol to
- Get medical assistance as soon as
- 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.
- What are the warning signs of heat
The warning signs of heat exhaustion include the following:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
|The skin may be cool
and moist. The pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing
will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it
may progress to heat stroke. See medical attention if symptoms
worsen or last longer than one hour.
- What steps can be taken to cool the
body during heat exhaustion?
- Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
- Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge
- Seek an air-conditioned environment.
- Wear lightweight clothing.
- What are heat cramps and who is
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 muscles 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.
- What should I do if I have heat
If medical attention is not necessary, take the following steps:
- Stop all activity and sit quietly in a
- Drink clear juice or a sports
- 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.
- What is heat rash?
Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during
hot, humid weather. It can occur at any age but is most common in
young children. Heat rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or
small blisters. It is more likely to occur on the neck and upper
chest, in the groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases.
- What is the best treatment for heat
The best treatment for heat rash is to provide a cooler, less humid
environment. Keep the affected area dry. Dusting powder may be used
to increase comfort, but avoid using ointments or creams -- they
keep the skin warm and moist and may make the condition worse.
- Can medications increase the risk
of heat-related illness?
The risk for heat-related illness and death may increase among
people using the following drugs: (1) psychotropics, which affect
psychic function, behavior, or experience (e.g. haloperidol or
chlorpromazine); (2) medications for Parkinson’s disease, because
they can inhibit perspiration; and (3) tranquilizers such as
phenothiazines, butyrophenones, and thiozanthenes.
- How effective are electric fans in
preventing heat-related illness?
Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in
the high 90s, fans 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. Air conditioning is the strongest protective
factor against heat-related illness. Exposure to air conditioning
for even a few hours a day will reduce the risk for heat-related
illness. Consider visiting a shopping mall or public library for a
- 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, wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen,
pace yourself, stay cool indoors, schedule outdoor activities
carefully, use a buddy system, monitor those at risk, and adjust to
- How much should I drink during hot
During hot weather you will 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
two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour. Avoid
drinks containing alcohol because they will actually cause you to
lose more fluid.
- Should I take salt tablets during
Do not take salt tablets unless directed by your doctor. Heavy
sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These are
necessary for your body and must be replaced. The easiest and safest
way to do this is through your diet. Drink fruit juice or a sports
beverage when you exercise or work in the heat.
- What is the best clothing for hot
weather or a heat wave?
Wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home. Choose
lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. In the hot sun,
a wide-brimmed hat will provide shade and keep the head cool. If you
must go outdoors, be sure to apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to
going out and continue to reapply according to the package
directions. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself and
causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the
- What should I do if I work in a hot
Pace yourself. If you are not accustomed to working or exercising in
a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If
exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping
for breath, STOP all activity. Get into a cool area or at least in
the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused,
weak, or faint.
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) - National Center for Environmental Health