Heat Health Problems

Spot and treat health problems caused by heat

It is important to recognize when hot weather is making you sick, and when to get help.  Here is a list of health problems caused by exposure to too much heat:

* Dehydration

What it is:  A loss of water in your body.  It can be serious if not treated.

Warning signs:  Weakness, headache, muscle cramps, dizziness, confusion and passing out.

What to do:  Drink plenty of water and, if possible, sports drinks such as Gatorade, which contain important salts called “electrolytes.”  Among other things, electrolytes play a key role in regulating your heartbeat.  Your body loses electrolytes when you are dehydrated.  If you do not feel better, call 911.  If you feel better after drinking fluids but have medical conditions, like heart failure, or take diuretics (“water pills”), you should also call your healthcare provider for a follow-up.

* Heat stroke

What it is:  A very dangerous rise in your body temperature, which may happen gradually over days of heat exposure in older adults.  It can be deadly.

Warning signs:  A body temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher; red, hot, and dry skin; a fast pulse; headache; dizziness; nausea or vomiting; confusion or lethargy; and passing out.

What to do:  Call 911 immediately.  Move to a cool, shady place and take off or loosen heavy clothes.  If possible, douse yourself with cool water, or put cloths soaked with cool water on your wrists, ankles, armpits, and neck to lower your temperature.  Try to see if you can safely swallow water or sports drinks while waiting for 911.

Note:  If you are caring for someone else who has heat stroke, only give them water or drinks if they are awake and can swallow.  Do not try to give fluids by mouth if the person is drowsy, as it could cause choking.

* Heat exhaustion

What it is:  A serious health problem caused by too much heat and dehydration.  If not treated, it may lead to heat stroke (see above).

Warning signs:  Heavy sweating or no sweating, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, paleness, cold or clammy skin, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, fast and weak pulse, fainting.  Body temperature is generally between 98.6°F (37°C) and 104°F (40°C).

What to do:  Without delay, move to a cool, shady place, and drink plenty of cool fluids, such as water or sports drinks.  Call 911 right away if you have high blood pressure or heart problems, or if you do not feel better quickly after moving to the shade and drinking liquids.

* Heat syncope

What it is:  Fainting caused by high temperatures.

Warning signs:  Dizziness or fainting.

What to do:  Lie down and put your feet up, and drink plenty of water and other cool fluids.

From healthinaging.org