1. 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.
2. Who is at greatest risk for heat-related
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 medications.
3. 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.
4. What are the warning signs of a heat
Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:
6. 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.
7. What are the warning signs of heat exhaustion?
The warning signs of heat exhaustion include the following:
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.
8. What steps can be taken to cool the body
during heat exhaustion?
9. What are heat cramps and who is affected?
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.
10. What should I do if I have heat cramps?
If medical attention is not necessary, take the following steps:
11. 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.
12. What is the best treatment for heat rash?
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.
14. 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 few hours.
15. How can people protect their health when temperatures are extremely
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 the environment.
16. 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.
17. Should I take salt tablets during hot weather?
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.
18. 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 skin.
19. 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.
This information provided by NCEH's Health Studies Branch.