Know How to Avoid Heat-Related Illness when the Temperature Spikes This Summer

You’re at the beach on a 92-degree day with a friend when, suddenly, she seems confused. She says her head hurts, she feels dizzy and starts to vomit. Then she faints.  

Would you know what to do?  

Your friend is likely suffering heat exhaustion. If her symptoms don’t improve after moving her to a cool place, loosening her clothes, putting a cool cloth on her head and having her sip water, you should seek medical attention.   

From May through September 2022 in Virginia, 2,861 people went to emergency rooms or urgent care centers for a heat-related illness. Already this May, 75 people have sought medical help.  

Your body cools itself down by sweating, but when temperatures soar above average and you spend a lot of time outside, sweating might not be enough.  

Dehydration can happen if you lose too much water and salt from your body when it’s hot. If you have been sweating a lot or haven’t had any water, you can become dehydrated. Severe dehydration can be life-threatening.  

Heat cramps are painful, involuntary muscle spasms that can happen during heavy physical activity in the heat. You could feel cramps in your calves, arms, abdominal muscles and back. If you have heat cramps, find somewhere cool and out of direct sunlight (preferably inside), rest for several hours and drink clear juice or a sports drink with electrolytes. 

Heat Exhaustion symptoms also can include heavy sweating; cold, pale and clammy skin; a fast, weak pulse; muscle cramps and tiredness or weakness.  

Heat stroke is life-threatening and could lead to death. If you’re outside for a long time, doing physical activity in hot weather, you may stop sweating. Your body temperature could reach 106 degrees in as little as 15 minutes.  

You can avoid heat-related illness this summer with the following tips:  

  • Drink plenty of water. 
  • Stay inside an air-conditioned building, if possible. 
  • Wear light-colored, lightweight clothing. 
  • Limit physical activity. 
  • Wear a hat. 
  • Use sunscreen. 
  • Take frequent breaks when working outside. 

It’s helpful to learn the terms that weather forecasters use to talk about how hot it will be. An excessive heat warning means that higher temperatures than normal are expected in the next 36 hours. The heat index is how it feels outside when relative humidity is added to the air temperature. 

Be sure to check the back seat of your car to make sure children and pets are not left behind. A hot car with the windows up can quickly reach more than 150 degrees, leading to heat stroke or death. Leaving the window down is not enough to keep the car cool.  

It’s also a good idea to check on neighbors. People age 65 or older may suffer from heat-related illness and complications when the temperature and humidity are high. 

Infants and children, people with chronic conditions, athletes, people with lower incomes, outdoor workers and pregnant women are also more at risk of becoming sick when the temperature is high. 

Other things that could increase the risk of a heat-related illness:  

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

You can have a fun and safe summer with a few simple steps that will help protect you and those around you.    

Learn more on the Virginia Department of Health and the CDC websites about heat-related illness, who is at greater risk and how to stay safe in extreme heat.