Heat-Related Illnesses and How To Treat Them


When temperatures rise in the summer, it may be a popular time to get outdoors, but it’s also a time when people are at greater risk for heat-related illnesses. Even if you think you aren’t prone to overheating, it’s important to know about this condition and how to treat it.

What is Extreme Heat?

Extreme heat is technically defined as a period of high heat and humidity, typically above 90 degrees. Extreme heat is one of the most prominent factors involved with heat-related illnesses which include issues like heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

Keep in mind, because some places are hotter than others, you need to take in a few different factors and considerations. Humidity can also make a temperature feel hotter than it really is and presents a higher risk for heat-related issues.

When it’s hot out or there is a heat advisory in your area, you should always be on the lookout for signs of heat-related injuries for yourself and others.

What Causes Heat-Related Illness?

Heat-related illnesses, like heat exhaustion, happen when the body is not able to properly cool itself.

While the body normally cools itself by sweating, during extreme heat, this might not be enough. In situations like this, a person’s body temperature will rise faster than the body can work to cool itself down.

In extreme cases, this can lead to brain damage and damage to other vital organs.

Heat Illness Risk Factors

In addition to physical temperatures presenting a potential risk factor for heat-related illnesses, other contributing factors may increase the likelihood of getting heat-related illnesses.

This includes the following:

  • Obesity
  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Prescription drug use
  • Heart disease
  • Mental illness
  • Poor circulation
  • Sunburn
  • Alcohol use

Keep these factors in mind, along with general physical exertion when temperature and humidity levels rise, as it could put you in a situation for heat-related illnesses.

Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness

Heat-related illnesses are a serious matter, and while there is nothing that you can do about the weather, there are things that you can do to help prevent heat-related issues and lessen your chances of falling victim to heat-related illnesses.

This includes the following:

  • Wear appropriate clothing when it’s hot out. It’s best to dress in lightweight, light-colored layers if possible, so you can remove layers if you feel overheated.
  • Stay cool indoors when you can. When it’s hot out make sure you are taking breaks to head indoors and put on the air conditioning to help cool down and keep your body temperature regulated.
  • Pace yourself with activity. Cut down on exercise during high-heat situations. If you’re not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. Always have fluids on hand and a proper cool-down strategy if you must be in the heat.
  • Avoid hot and heavy meals. What you eat can also have an impact on your body’s ability to cool itself down. Avoid heavy meals and ones filled with salt as they can dehydrate you. Avoid hot foods as much as possible. Healthy, fresh, and cold foods are always best during these situations.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. When the temperatures rise, there is nothing as important as drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. You should always be drinking eight glasses of water per day, but increase this number during hot weather situations to avoid heat-related illnesses.

You should also always be checking your local news for extreme heat alerts. Most news stations will also release safety tips and to information about any cooling shelters in your area during these times.

Heat-Related Illnesses

One of the best ways that you can prevent heat-related illnesses is to know how to spot them. If you are noticing early signs of heat-related illnesses in yourself or someone else, it’s important to call a medical professional right away.

Here’s what to look for, and what to do with some of the more common types of heat-related illnesses.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature and fails to cool itself down. When heat stroke occurs, the body’s temperature can rise to 106 degrees or higher within 15 minutes. This is why it is important to move with urgency at the first sign of heat stroke.

What to look for:

  • High body temperature (103°F or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness (passing out)

If you notice these signs and symptoms, call 911 right away. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. After calling 911, you should move the person to a cooler place and help lower their temperature with cool clothes or submerge them in a cold bath. Do not give them anything to drink.


Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to losing an excessive amount of salt and water. It usually occurs when you are sweating more than normal.

What to look for:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fainting (passing out)

If you notice someone is struggling with these symptoms and may have heat exhaustion, move them to a cool place right away. First, loosen their clothes and then put cool, wet clothes on their body or submerge them in a cool bath.

If the individual starts throwing up, symptoms get worse or these symptoms last longer than an hour, get medical attention right away.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are serious and painful cramps brought on by dehydration. Unlike other forms of cramps, they typically don’t go away within a few seconds and may feel more painful than other types of cramps. They are most commonly associated with heavy sweating during intense periods of exercise.

If you are experiencing muscle cramps or spasms in serious heat, stop physical activity and move to a cool place. Make sure you are drinking water or a sports drink right away and wait for your cramps to go away completely before you try any more physical activity.

If your cramps last longer than an hour, if you have pre-existing heart issues, or if you’re on a low-sodium diet—get medical attention right away.

Sun Burns

Many people don’t realize that sunburns are a type of heat-related illness, and serious sunburns aren’t as innocent as they may seem to some people. Sunburns are characterized by painful, red, and warm skin.

Serious sunburns can form blisters on the skin. If you experience this type of burn, make sure that you stay out of the sun until your sunburn heals. Place cool cloths on your sunburned area or take a cold bath to help cool the skin down. Moisturizing lotion and aloe vera are great ways to treat damaged skin.

If you have blisters from your sunburn, do not break them.

Heat Rash

Heat rash is characterized by small clusters of small blisters that look like pimples on the skin. While heat rashes can look different for different people, they usually form on the neck, chest, groin, or in elbow creases.

If you are experiencing signs of heat rash, stay in a cool, dry place to give your skin time to recover and make sure that you are keeping your rash dry. Baby powder is a great way to soothe the rash and keep it dry.

When to Visit Urgent Care For Heat-Related Illness

If you notice any serious symptoms mentioned before then you should always call 9-1-1 or visit an urgent care facility right away. Any symptoms related to heat stroke or heat exhaustion should be handled with urgency and care and often require medical attention.


Heat-related illnesses are very serious and if left untreated can lead to hospitalization or death. The best line of defense against these conditions is to know the signs and what to look for. If you are prepared to act quickly, you can help save yourself or someone else from a serious condition.  

Centers Urgent care is here for all your medical needs. Our experienced providers are ready to help. Find a location closest to you here

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