Recognize Heat Illness
Heat-related illnesses happen when your body cannot cool itself. Some heat illnesses are mild, like heat rash, sunburn, and heat cramps. Others like heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and dehydration can be severe or even life-threatening and may require emergency medical care.
Find out about each type of heat illness and what you can do if you think you or someone else is sick because of heat.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition. Someone with heat stroke needs emergency care right away. Signs that someone has heat stroke are hot, dry, red skin; lack of sweating; rapid pulse; high body temperature (103 F or higher); headache; rapid and shallow breathing; loss of alertness; confusion; and unconsciousness or coma.
What to do
Call 911 right away. This is an emergency. While waiting for medical help:
- Move the person to a cooler location, such as a shady area or an air-conditioned space.
- Remove any unnecessary clothing.
- Do everything you can to cool the person as quickly as possible, such as:
- Get the person in a shower or tub of cool water, or an ice bath.
- Spray the person with cool water from a hose.
- Wet the person's skin with water or wet cloths.
- Wrap the person in a wet sheet.
- Once the person is wet, direct air onto them with a fan or anything that will move air like a newspaper or magazine.
- Put ice on the person's head, neck, armpits, and groin area.
- If the person is awake, alert, and able to swallow, give them cool fluids. Don't give them drinks with alcohol or caffeine.
Signs that someone has heat exhaustion include heavy sweating; fainting; vomiting; cold, pale, and clammy skin; dizziness; headache; nausea; and weakness. Heat exhaustion can quickly turn into heat stroke.
What to do
- Move the person to a cooler location, like a shady area or an air-conditioned space.
- Help the person to lie down, loosen or remove their clothing, and rest.
- Cool the person off with water or wet cloths. If possible, have them take a cool shower or bath.
- Have the person sip cool water or non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated fluids.
- Monitor the person carefully. If they get worse, or do not get any better within 30 minutes, get medical help.
- If the person has vomited, and continues to vomit after you have taken the above steps to cool them off, get medical help right away.
Dehydration happens when the body loses a lot of water and salt. This can happen if someone has been out in the heat for a long period of time. Some cases of dehydration can be severe. Severe dehydration can be life-threatening. Infants and the elderly are more likely to become severely dehydrated.
Call 911 if a person has signs of severe dehydration. Signs of severe dehydration include extreme thirst, very dry skin and mouth, extreme tiredness, little or no urination for 12 or more hours, fast heartbeat, fast breathing, light-headedness or dizziness, or confusion.
Signs of dehydration that is not severe include thirst, dry or sticky mouth, dry skin, tiredness, headache, few or no tears when crying, and less need to urinate.
What to do for dehydration that is not severe
- Drink cool fluids like water, juice, or a sports drink. For infants, give a replacement fluid like Pedialyte, in addition to breast milk or formula.
- Move to a cooler location, like a shady spot or an air-conditioned space.
- Lie down and rest.
- Monitor someone you think might be dehydrated -- especially infants and the elderly. If the person's symptoms get worse, or do not get any better within 24 hours, get medical help.
Someone with heat cramps usually has brief, painful muscle spasms or cramps in the stomach area or in the arms or legs. These often happen while the person is exercising or working in a hot environment, or shortly after. People with heat cramps often have heavy sweating and mild nausea.
What to do
- Move the person to a cooler location, like a shady spot or an air-conditioned space.
- Carefully stretch and massage the cramping muscle.
- Drink cool fluids like water, juice, or a sports drink. Don't have drinks with alcohol or caffeine.
- Have the person take a break from exercise or heavy work for a few hours. Further exertion may lead to more serious illness like heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
- Get medical help if cramps do not get better after an hour, or if there are other medical problems.
Someone with sunburn has skin that is red, painful, and warm after being out in the sun.
What to do
- Get out of the sun. If you must go out in the sun, keep skin covered with light, loose fitting clothing.
- Put cool, wet cloths on your skin or soak burned areas in cool water.
- Put aloe vera or other moisturizing lotion on the burn. Do not use salves, ointments, or butter.
- Infants with Sunburn: Talk to your child's medical provider if your child is younger than 1 year and gets sunburned.
- Talk to a medical provider if you have a fever, fluid-filled blisters, or severe pain from sunburn.
Heat rash is a skin problem that is most common in babies and young children. The rash happens when sweat is blocked under the skin. Heat rash is a red cluster of small pimples or blisters. It shows up most often on a baby’s neck, shoulders, and chest, or in skin creases. It also shows up where clothing is tight against the skin, and can be a sign that babies are dressed too warmly for the weather.
What to do
- Get to a cooler location.
- Loosen or remove clothing.
- Keep the skin cool and dry
- Avoid using creams, lotions, or ointments unless directed to do so by your doctor. They can make heat rash worse.
- Use dusting powder or cornstarch to make babies and children more comfortable.