Don’t Get Beat by the Heat! How to Avoid Heat Illnesses

Moving Ahead     Summer 2019

Heat illnesses can affect anyone of any age. When heat and humidity are on the rise, it’s time to be alert for symptoms of heat illness, which occurs when your body temperature rises too high. It usually results from being exposed to extreme heat and/or humidity for a prolonged period of time without taking in enough fluids. A heat illness might start out mild, but can progress and become more dangerous quickly.

The different types of heat illnesses are:

  • Heat rash: Skin irritation caused by excessive sweating
  • Heat cramps: Muscle pains or spasms that can happen during heavy exercise
  • Heat exhaustion: More serious symptoms, including heavy sweating, fast breathing and a fast pulse
  • Heatstroke: Critical situation that can be life-threatening because the body’s temperature can get dangerously high; a medical emergency

Jeffrey M. Rayborn, MD, of Premier Orthopedics, talks about the different levels of heat illnesses.

Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

What is heat illness, and what are the different levels?

There are several different levels to heat illness. It can start out relatively mild having fatigue and some of the milder symptoms and progress to what we call heat exhaustion which includes many of the signs and symptoms including nausea, vomiting, fatigue, flushing, incoherence and can lead you into what we call heat stroke. That’s when you have altered mental status and it can lead to collapse and rarely but can lead to death. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. All these levels of heat illness are preventable by recognizing the signs early and having early treatment.


Heat illnesses can affect anyone of any age, so keep an eye out for symptoms in kids as well as grown-ups.

Be aware of the possibility of heat illnesses especially at these times:Don’t Get Beat by the Heat! How to Avoid Heat Illnesses - In Content

  • During periods of high, heavy physical activity, such as at sports practices
  • During periods of prolonged exposure to high humidity and/or high temperatures outside
  • At the hottest time of the day
  • When wearing heavy clothing such as band and football uniforms

Some medical conditions and medications can cause you to be more sensitive to heat. Talk to your doctor about your susceptibility to heat and sun exposure.

Symptoms and First Aid

The key to keeping heat illnesses at bay is recognizing the signs early and getting early treatment. If you notice that you or anyone you’re with — no matter their age — is showing the symptoms below, seek help right away.

Dr. Michael Barrow, of Samaritan North Family Physicians, talks about what you can do if you or someone near you becomes overheated.

Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

What is the treatment for heat illness?

Typically the first thing is to remove the athlete if they are having heat illness away from the source of the problem. If they’re exercising outside then they need to get in an area of shade, get inside if they can do that, get in air conditioning if they can do that, drink plenty of fluids and have somebody cool them down, either fan them or pour fluids on them to help cool them down. If it’s a severe heat illness, then they actually need to get into a pool or even get into an ice bucket if they can.


Here’s what to watch for — and what to do.

Heat Illness Symptoms Treatment
Heat Rash
  • Small, red bumps on the body
  • Remove excess clothing, limit activity, and seek air conditioning or any cooler environment. Heat rash usually resolves once people move to a cooler environment.
  • Place cool cloths on skin.
  • Drink lots of fluids.
Heat Cramps
  • Painful cramps, especially in the legs
  • Flushed, moist skin
  • Move to a cool place and rest. Do not continue to participate in the activity
  • Remove excess clothing and place cool cloths on 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 skin; fan skin.
  • Give cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar.
  • If no improvement or unable to take fluids, get to an emergency department immediately. IV (intravenous) fluids may be needed.
  • 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
  • StuporSeizures, coma, and death are possible
  • Move to a cool place and rest.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency medical service. Heat 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.
A heat illness might start out mild, but can progress and become more dangerous quickly.

How to Avoid Heat Illnesses

These tips can help stop the heat from spoiling your fun.

  • Use sunscreen. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before being in the sun and reapply as needed. Use one with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30, recommends the American Academy of Dermatology.
  • Hydrate. Drink plenty of fluids — such as water or sports drinks — during vigorous or outdoor activities, especially on hot days. Avoid alcohol and fluids with caffeine, such as tea, coffee and soft drinks, as these can lead to dehydration.
  • Dress smart. Wear light-colored, lightweight, tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing on hot days. Use a hat with a wide brim, sunglasses and an umbrella.
  • Note the time of day. Schedule vigorous activity and sports for cooler times of the day. Spend as much time indoors as possible on very hot and humid days.
  • Take breaks. Pace yourself and seek cool shelter as soon as you start feeling hot. Find shade when possible. Teach children to take frequent drink breaks and "wet down" or mist themselves with a spray bottle to avoid becoming overheated.
  • Acclimate. Children and teens adjust more slowly than adults do to changes in environmental heat. Increase time spent outdoors gradually to get your child's body used to the heat. Teach your child to warm up and cool down before and after exercising.
  • Team up. Find a buddy so you can keep an eye on each other.