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Current as of August 2000 and replaces preceding heat tips releases.

Tips on Managing Heat and Heat-Related Illnesses

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges you to take steps to avoid heat-related illnesses. People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies’ temperature control systems overload and their bodies can no longer cool themselves.

Tips on Managing Heat

The best defense is prevention.
Here are some prevention tips:

  • Drink more fluids (non-alcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask the doctor how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
  • Don’t drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar–these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also avoid very cold drinks because these can cause stomach cramps.
  • Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air-conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library–even a few hours spent in air-conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
  • Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
  • If you must be out in the heat:
    • Try to be outdoors before noon or in the evening.
    • Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink 2-4 glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage. Remember the warning in the first "tip" (above), too.
    • Try to rest often in shady areas.
    • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses, and putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels).
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.
  • Check regularly on those at greatest risk of heat-related illness:
    • Infants and children up to 4 years of age.
    • People aged 65 or older.
    • People who have a mental illness or are retarded .
    • Those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure.
    Visit adults at risk at least two times a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.

Heat-Related Illnesses

The two worst types of heat-related illness are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Warning signs of heat exhaustion can include:

  • Heavy sweating.
  • Paleness.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Tiredness or weakness.
  • Dizziness or headache.
  • A "sick stomach" feeling or vomiting ("throwing" or "throwing up").
  • Faintness ("falling out").

If these symptoms are severe or the person has heart problems or high blood pressure, get medical help right away. Otherwise, help the person cool off by having him do these things:

  • Drink cool, non-alcoholic beverages such as water.
  • Rest.
  • Take a cool sponge bath (or if the person can stand safely or be moved to a tub, help him take a cool shower or bath).
  • Change to lightweight clothing.
  • Most importantly, move to an air-conditioned place such a shopping mall, or local heat-relief shelter if your city or town has these (these often include the public libraries, senior centers, or recreational buildings).

Get medical help if symptoms get worse or last more than 1 hour. If untreated, heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke, a very serious condition. Up to 40% of people with heat stroke may die due to brain damage, even when they get appropriate medical help.

Warning signs of heat stroke can include:

  • A body temperature of 103° or higher
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (although some victims may sweat).
  • Throbbing headache or dizziness.
  • "Sick stomach" feeling.
  • Confusion or unconsciousness ("passing out").

If you think someone may have heat stroke, call the medical emergency phone number (usually 911) in your area right away, or if you can’t do that, call a hospital or doctor. Don’t wait! Heat stroke is a medical emergency! These are actions you can take while you wait for help to arrive:

  • Move the person to a shady area.
  • Use water to cool the person (for example, put the person in a tub of cool water, spray him with water from a garden hose, or sponge him off with cool water).
  • Keep up your cooling efforts until the person’s body temperature stays at 101-102°.
  • If the person can safely drink, give him non-alcoholic fluids.

For more information about heat, visit the CDC Web site, "Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety," at this address:

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This page last reviewed October 17, 2000

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention