Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety

June 25th, 2020

Heat and Your Health

With summer comes sun and warm weather—but rising temperatures also increase the risk of heat related illnesses.   Heat-related illnesses are responsible for more deaths per year than any other weather-related exposure, including tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Make sure you’re aware of how to best protect yourself and your loved ones from a heat related illness as it can creep up on you when you least expect it.

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.

There are three types of heat-related syndromes:

  • Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Heat cramps usually occur during heavy exercise in hot environments. These painful, involuntary muscle spasms are more intense and prolonged than those nighttime leg cramps many are familiar with. Heat cramps are caused by a loss of fluid and electrolytes in the body.
  • Heat exhaustion is caused by exposure to high temperatures, especially in humid climates, humidity, and high-intensity physical activity. Severe heat exhaustion can cause heatstroke, a life-threatening condition. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, faintness, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and headache.
  • Heatstroke is the most severe type of heat-related illness, and the most dangerous. Heatstroke occurs when your body overheats, usually as a result of spending a long period of time in high temperatures. Untreated heatstroke can cause damage to the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles, and can even result in death. Symptoms to watch out for: a high body temperature (104 degrees or higher), altered mental state or behavior, confusion, slurred speech, alteration in sweating, nausea and vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing, racing heart rate and headache.

Though the elderly (65+), infants and children are more susceptible to heat stress, even the best athletes can succumb to the health risks of hot weather. Certain conditions can limit the ability to regulate temperature as well including  obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, prescription drug use and alcohol use.

Understanding how and why the body cools itself, when faced with extreme temperatures, is the key to staying healthy and preventing injuries and even death.

Body temperature is regulated by the hypothalamus much as the temperature in your home is controlled by a thermostat: The hypothalamus responds to internal and external stimuli and makes any necessary adjustments to keep your body within a few degrees of 98.6.  But unlike a thermostat, which simply turns the heat or air conditioning on or off until a desired temperature is reached, the hypothalamus must regulate and fine-tune a complex set of temperature-control activities. It not only helps to balance body fluids and maintain salt concentrations, it also controls the release of chemicals and hormones related to temperature.

The hypothalamus works with other parts of the body’s temperature-regulating system, such as the skin, sweat glands and blood vessels. The middle layer of the skin, or dermis, stores most of the body’s water. When heat activates sweat glands, these glands bring that water, along with the body’s salt, to the surface of the skin as sweat. Once on the surface, the water evaporates. Water evaporating from the skin cools the body, keeping its temperature in a healthy range.

On most days, the hypothalamus reacts to increases in outdoor temperature by sending messages to the blood vessels, telling them to dilate. This sends warm blood, fluids and salts to the skin, setting off the process of evaporation.  Problems occur when a person is in the heat for a long time or in such extremes of heat or humidity that the evaporation process fails.  In prolonged heat exposure, the body sweats so much that it depletes itself of fluids and salts, leaving nothing to sustain the evaporation process. When this process stops, body temperature soars and heat illnesses may result.

According to the Center for Disease Control:

Muscle cramping might be the first sign of heat-related illness, and may lead to heat exhaustion or stroke. Here is how you can recognize heat exhaustion and heat stroke and what to do:

Heat Exhaustion

  • Heavy sweating
  • Weakness
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
What You Should Do:

  • Move to a cooler location.
  • Lie down and loosen your clothing.
  • Apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible.
  • Sip water.
  • If you have vomited and it continues, seek medical attention immediately.
Heat Stroke

  • High body temperature (above 103°F)*
  • Hot, red, dry or moist skin
  • Rapid and strong pulse
  • Possible unconsciousness
What You Should Do:

  • Call 911 immediately — this is a medical emergency.
  • Move the person to a cooler environment.
  • Reduce the person’s body temperature with cool cloths or even a bath.
  • Do NOT give fluids.

To download  list of heat related illnesses and what to do about them, click on the link below.  Share this PDF from the Centers for Disease Control with your friends and loved ones.


Stay Cool 

A few ways to stay cool in the extreme heat:

  • Soak a t-shirt in the sink in cool water (not cold or chilled water), wring it out, put it on and sit in the shade or in front of a fan.
  • Fill a plastic spray bottle with water and freeze over night. You will have a cool mist that lasts for hours.
  • Soak your feet in cold water. The body radiates heat from the hands, feet, face and ears, so cooling any of these will naturally cool the body.
  • Wear light colors! Darker colors will absorb the sun’s rays and be warmer than light or white clothing, which reflects light and heat.
  • Minty fresh – use mint scented or menthol lotions and soaps to cool your skin.
  • Rubbing Alcohol – Put some rubbing alcohol on a damp washcloth and hold it on the back of your neck and sit near a fan. The evaporative effect can feel 30 degrees cooler!


The perfect low calorie, naturally sweet summer treat!
These frozen bites always stay icy, but not frozen solid. They must be eaten as soon as they are removed from the freezer before they thaw completely.

1. Wash and dry green or red grapes.
2. Place in sealable plastic bag.
3. Keep in freezer for 2 hours or until frozen.
4. Fill a bowl with several ice cubes and place the bag in the bowl to keep cool while you enjoy!


Be safe and have a wonderful summer!