Summer Care: Avoiding Heat Illness

For many, the summer means beach trips, vacations, and family fun, but the season can also bring insects, rashes, asthma attacks, sunburns, and more.

While we’re not here to ruin anyone’s good time, we are here to keep you safe and healthy. So, we’re providing a rundown of some summertime perils and how best to treat these conditions.

Southcoast Health reminds you to stay vigilant and to not ignore your symptoms. We are your resource for world-class care close to home, including treatment for seasonal illnesses, minor injuries, and more.

Heat-related illnesses are preventable. Understand the warning signs, symptoms, and what to do if you or a loved one shows signs of having a heat-related illness.

Heat-Related Illnesses (Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke)

What are heat-related illnesses?

Exposure to abnormal or prolonged amounts of heat and humidity without relief or adequate fluid intake can cause various types of heat-related illness. 

Heat-related illness can occur in two ways: exertional and non-exertional. Exertional heat illness occurs when people exert themselves in a hot environment, such as practicing football on a hot day without any breaks. 

Non-exertional heatstroke occurs when an individual is confined in a hot environment. 

Heat-related illness includes the following conditions based on the severity of an individual’s condition:

  • Heat cramps
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heat stroke

What are heat cramps?

Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat illness and consist of painful muscle cramps and spasms that occur during or after intense exercise and sweating in high heat.

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps and results from a loss of water and salt in the body. It occurs in conditions of extreme heat and excessive sweating without adequate fluid and salt replacement. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heatstroke.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke, the most severe form of heat illness, occurs when the body’s heat-regulating system is overwhelmed by excessive heat. It is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms and First Aid measures for heat injuries

The following list contains the most common symptoms of heat-related illness. Specific treatment will be determined by your doctor and may include some, or more, of the following:

  • Condition
  • Symptoms
  • First-aid and treatment

Heat cramps

  • Painful cramps, especially in the legs
  • Flushed, moist skin
  • Move to a cool place and rest; don’t continue the activity
  • Remove excess clothing and place cool cloths on the skin; fan skin
  • Give cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar
  • Stretch cramped muscles slowly and gently

Heat exhaustion

  • Muscle cramps
  • Pale, moist skin
  • Usually has a fever over 100.4° F (or 34° C)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Anxiety, and faint feeling
  • Move to a cool place and rest
  • Remove excess clothing and place cool cloths on the skin; fan skin
  • Give cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar
  • If no improvement or unable to take fluids, individuals should be taken to an emergency room immediately; IV (intravenous) fluids may be needed

Heat Stroke

  • Warm, dry skin
  • High fever, usually over 104° F (or 40° C)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Lethargy
  • Stupor
  • Seizures, coma, and death are possible
  • Move to a cool place and rest
  • Call 911 or your local emergency medical service
  • Heats stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency and needs to be treated by a doctor
  • Remove excess clothing and drench skin with cool water; fan skin
  • Place ice bags on the armpits and groin areas.
  • Offer cool fluids if alert and able to drink

How can heat stroke be prevented?

Some general guidelines to help protect you or your loved ones from heat-related illnesses include the following:

  • Don’t leave children unattended in a car – even if the windows are cracked open. This is a leading cause of infant death from heat illness in the U.S.
  • Drink plenty of fluids during vigorous or outdoor activities (including sunbathing), especially on hot days. Drinks of choice include water and sports drinks. Don’t drink alcohol or fluids with caffeine, such as tea, coffee, and cola. These can lead to dehydration.
  • Make sure to dress in light-colored, lightweight, tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing on hot days.
  • Schedule vigorous activity and sports for cooler times of the day. Take rest periods in shady or cool areas.
  • Make sure you are protected from the sun, wear a hat and sunglasses, and uses an umbrella. Use a sunscreen that is at least SPF (sun protection factor) 15.
  • Increase time spent outdoors gradually to get the body used to the heat.
  • Take frequent drink breaks and “wet down” or “mist” with a spray bottle to avoid becoming overheated.
  • Student-athletes need frequent breaks for water or sports drinks. Most athletes should drink 200 to 300 milliliters (about 1 cup) of fluid every 15 minutes of exercise.
  • Try to spend as much time indoors as possible on very hot and humid days.
  • Remember to warm up and cool down before and after exercising.
  • If you or a loved one has a medical condition or is taking medicine, consult his or her doctor for further advice for preventing heat-related illnesses.

When to Call a Professional

Seek emergency help if you or someone else has been in the heat and experiences confusion, faintness, staggering, hallucinations (visions that are not real), unusual agitation, or coma. Begin cooling the person immediately.

If you need quick medical care that you and your family can rely on, find your nearest Southcoast urgent care location or an urgent care doctor today. We gladly accept walk-ins, so no appointment is needed.

The Southcoast Health Urgent Care is open to the public, and you do not need to have a Southcoast Physicians Group doctor to visit our urgent care clinic.

If your condition is an emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.