About Heat Related Illnesses

Heat related illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn, and heat rash.  All occur during periods of extreme heat in which summertime temperatures are much higher and/ or more humid than average.

What causes them?

Heat related illnesses occur when the body is unable to cool itself properly.  Sweating is the normal way to for a body to cool itself. Sweating during times of extreme heat may not be enough.  A person’s body temperature may rise faster than it is able to cool itself down, which may result in damage to vital organs. A person may be at higher risk of developing a heat-related illness during periods of high humidity. Dehydration, sunburn, alcohol use and certain medical conditions may also put people at higher risk.

Signs and Symptoms

Heat stroke/exhaustion: High body temperature. Fast, strong pulse.  Headache, feel dizzy, nauseous, or confused, and may lose consciousness. Sometimes the skin may be cold, pale and clammy – but may become hot, red, or dry. Heat stroke may develop if heat exhaustion is not treated.

Heat cramps: muscle pain or spasms along with heavy sweating during intense exercise

Sunburn: painful, red, and warm skin that might be blistered.

Heat rash: clusters of red, small blisters (that resemble pimples) on the neck, chest, groin, or in elbow creases.


Heat stroke/exhaustion:  Call 911 immediately if heat stroke is suspected as this is considered to be a medical emergency. Move to a cool place, loosen clothes, take a cool bath, or apply wet and cool clothes to the body.  Get medical help as soon as possible if vomiting, experiencing worse symptoms, or symptoms are lasting for longer than an hour.

Heat cramps: Stop physical activity, move to a cooler place, and drink water or a sports beverage.  Wait for the cramps to go away completely before going back to physical activity.  If the symptoms last longer than one hour then  seek medical attention.

Sunburn: Stay out of the sun until sunburn is healed.  Cool baths, cool clothes on the sunburned area, moisturizing lotion, aloe may soothe the burn.  If blisters are present they should not be broken.

Heat rash: Stay in a cool and dry place,  keep their rash dry.  Soothe the rash by using a powder or cream.


Stay cool: If possible, stay in air-conditioned environments as much as possible and find a cool place to go if home is not air conditioned.  Outdoor activities should be limited and scheduled during times when it is coolest (morning and evening hours).  Take regular breaks in shaded areas, avoid sitting in hot car, and reduce exercise. Light-colored, lightweight, and loose fitting clothing should be worn.  Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going out in the sun and should be reapplied often.  Sunglasses or a wide brimmed hat can also help protect from the sun. Taking cool baths or showers and using cool towels can help reduce body heat.

Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids. Sugary, very cold, alcoholic, carbonated, and caffeinated beverages should be avoided.  Drinking a sports drink will help to replace the salt and minerals that are lost due to sweat.

Stay informed: Check the weather before leaving the house and dress appropriately.



Back to Disease Updates

(updated 07/17/2018)