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On the Hottest Days of Summer, Remember These 5 Tips for Heatstroke Prevention

Posted July 31, 2023 by Paul Lenz, M.D.

Person laying on ground

Summer is synonymous with fun in the sun. From swimming to hiking and biking to tennis, golf and more, it’s a season to enjoy the great outdoors. But as temperatures and humidity rise, so do the dangers of heat illness.


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 700 people are killed by extreme heat every year in this country. Infants and people aged 65 or older, especially those with chronic conditions, are most at risk for heat illness. However, it can affect anyone, even young athletes and those in good physical condition.


Fortunately, most heat illness can be prevented by taking proper precautions and recognizing the early warning signs. Learn more about heatstroke, the most severe form of heat illness, and precautionary measures to take as you head outdoors this summer to keep you and your family safe.


What is heatstroke?


Heatstroke is a medical emergency and occurs when the core body temperature rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, usually as a result of strenuous activity or prolonged exposure to high temperatures.


Symptoms of heatstroke include throbbing headache, confusion or disorientation, lack of sweating (dry skin), rapid heart rate, rapid, shallow breathing, nausea or vomiting, and fainting.


Left untreated, heatstroke can cause damage to your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed and can increase your risk of serious complications or even death.


If you think you or a loved one is experiencing heatstroke, call 9-1-1 immediately and then take the following steps:


  • Move the person to a cooler, shady place or preferably to an air-conditioned building, if possible.
  • Use cold compresses on the person’s neck, back or armpits or put the person in a cool tub to lower the body temperature.
  • Fan air over the person, while misting him with cool water or a garden hose.
  • Do not give the person fluids if he’s unconscious to avoid choking.

Tips to Preventing Heatstroke

The best way to prevent heat illness is to stay hydrated and limit your time in the sun.

Additional precautions you can take, include:

  • Wearing lightweight, loose and light-colored clothing. Tight-fitted clothing doesn’t allow the body to cool properly.
  • Protecting against sunburn by using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above and wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Sunburn can increase your risk of heat illness by affecting the body’s ability to cool itself.
  • Shifting your time outdoors, especially if you’re exercising, to the coolest times of the day.
  • Taking frequent breaks from the heat to cool yourself down and rehydrate.
  • Avoiding fluids with caffeine or alcohol, which can be dehydrating. Instead, drink plenty of water, fruit and vegetable juices. You may need a sports drink with electrolytes to replenish your body’s salt at the hottest times of the day.

Heat exhaustion often precedes heatstroke. The signs of heat exhaustion include cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat; heavy sweating; fainting; dizziness; fatigue; rapid pulse; headache; and nausea. Without prompt treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke.

It’s important to recognize the early warning signs and act on them quickly. It could save a life!


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If your situation is an emergency, call 911.