Extreme Heat and Your Health: Tips for Avoiding Heat-Related Illnesses

July 25, 2022


John Lyon
Strategic Communications Manager

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This summer appears destined to go into record books as one of hottest ever, with many parts of the U.S., including Arkansas, and Europe already breaking all-time temperature records. Heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the U.S., so it’s important to take precautions against heat-related illnesses.

The following are tips for staying safe in extreme heat, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Arkansas Department of Health:

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Stay in an air-conditioned place during the hottest hours of the day. If your home does not have air conditioning, consider a public place like a library, senior center, or mall. Some cities, including Little Rock, open cooling centers in times of extreme heat, and some churches may open their doors to let people cool off.
  • Try to limit your time outdoors to when it’s coolest, like morning and evening hours, and rest often in shady places.
  • Cut down on exercise during the heat, and stop all activity if exertion makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath.
  • If you must go outdoors, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.
  • Never leave infants, children, or pets in a parked car. See more on this topic in our blog post.
  • Drink water often, and make sure pets have plenty of fresh water. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. Avoid very sugary or alcoholic drinks, as they can cause you to lose more bodily fluid.
  • If you are 65 or older, have a friend or relative check on you twice a day during a heat wave. If you know someone in this age group, check on them at least twice a day.

The most common forms of heat illness, from most to least dangerous, are heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn, and heat rash. The Arkansas Department of Health advises to watch for the following symptoms and take the following actions if symptoms appear:

Heatstroke: Symptoms include high body temperature; hot, red, dry, or damp skin; a fast, strong pulse; headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; and fainting. If symptoms appear, call 911 right away, move to a cooler place, and help lower the body temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath.

Heat exhaustion: Symptoms include heavy sweating; cold, pale, and clammy skin; a fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; muscle cramps; tiredness or weakness; dizziness; headache; and fainting. If symptoms appear, move to a cool place, loosen clothes, put cool, wet cloths on the body or take a cool bath, and sip water. Get medical help right away if vomiting, dizziness, or other symptoms get worse or last longer than one hour.

Heat cramps: Symptoms include heavy sweating during intense exercise and muscle pain or spasms. If heat cramps occur, stop physical activity and move to a cool place, drink water or a sports drink, and wait for cramps to go away before starting more physical activity. A person who is on a low-sodium diet, has heart problems, or experiences cramps lasting longer than one hour should seek medical help immediately.

Sunburn: Symptoms include painful, red, and warm skin and blisters on the skin. If sunburn occurs, stay out of the sun until the sunburn heals, put cool cloths on the sunburned areas or take a cool bath, put moisturizing lotion on sunburned areas, and do not break blisters.

Heat rash: Symptoms include red clusters of small blisters that look like pimples on the skin, usually on the neck, chest, groin, or elbow creases. If heat rash occurs, stay in a cool, dry place, keep the rash dry, and use powder (like baby powder) to soothe the rash.