Heat Emergencies

Healthy tips to stay cool in extremely hot weather

Heat emergencies fall into three categories of increasing severity:

  • Heat Cramps
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Heatstroke

Heat illnesses are easily preventable by taking precautions in hot weather.

Children, elderly, and obese people have a higher risk of developing heat illness.

People taking certain medications or drinking alcohol also have a higher risk.

However, even a top athlete in superb condition can succumb to heat illness if he or she ignores the warning signs.

If the problem isn’t addressed, heat cramps (caused by loss of salt from heavy sweating) can lead to heat exhaustion (caused by dehydration), which can progress to heatstroke. Heatstroke, the most serious of the three, can cause shock, brain damage, organ failure, and even death.

Signs and symptoms

  • Heat cramps
    • Sweating
    • Pain in arms, legs, and abdomen
  • Heat exhaustion
    • Moist, pale skin
    • Fatigue and fainting
    • Dizziness and light-headedness
    • Headache and confusion
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Rapid pulse and breathing
  • Heat stroke
    • No sweating
    • Dry, hot, red skin
    • Confusion and loss of consciousness
    • Rapid pulse
    • Temperature over 103º F
    • Seizures


The following are common causes of heat emergencies:

  • High temperatures or humidity
  • Dehydration
  • Prolonged or excessive exercise
  • Excess clothing
  • Alcohol use
  • Medications, such as diuretics, neuroleptics, phenothiazines, and anticholinergics
  • Cardiovascular disease


What to do in Heat Emergencies

First Aid

  • Have the person lie down in a cool place. Elevate the person’s feet about 12 inches.
  • Apply cool, wet cloths (or cool water directly) to the person’s skin and use a fan to lower body temperature. Place cold compresses on the person’s neck, groin, and armpits.
  • If the person is alert, give cool water or sports beverages. It’s advisable to drink slowly and steadily, particularly if they are experiencing nausea.
  • For muscle cramps, give beverages as above, and massage and stretch affected muscles gently, but firmly, until they relax.
  • If the person shows signs of shock (bluish lips and fingernails, and decreased alertness), starts having seizures, or loses consciousness, call 911 and continue cooling procedures, as described above.


  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in hot weather.
  • Rest regularly in a cool area; seek shade when possible.
  • Avoid strenuous physical activity in hot or humid conditions.
  • Drink plenty of fluids every day. Drink more fluids before, during, and after physical activity.
  • Be especially careful to avoid overheating if you are taking drugs that impair heat regulation, or if you are overweight or elderly.
  • Be careful of hot cars in the summer. Allow the car to cool off before getting in.
  • Avoid heavy meals and hot foods.


  • DO NOT underestimate the seriousness of heat illness, especially if the person is a child, elderly, or injured.
  • DO NOT give the person medications that are used to treat fever (such as aspirin or acetaminophen). They will not help, and they may be harmful.
  • DO NOT give the person salt tablets.
  • DO NOT give the person liquids that contain alcohol or caffeine. They will interfere with the body’s ability to control its internal temperature.
  • DO NOT use alcohol rubs on the person’s skin.
  • DO NOT give the person anything by mouth (not even salted drinks) if the person is vomiting or unconscious.

For more information on how to cope with the heat, visit the CDC’s Web site at:


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