Mayuri Bhakta
FNP-BC Medcor Provider

Whew! It’s getting hot!

Did you know that heat-related illnesses can affect anyone? Heat-related illnesses occur when people are exposed to high environmental heat and their bodies are not able to regulate their core temperatures. Most heat-related illnesses occur when people are exercising, working, or involved in activities in hot environments. Environmental factors that can contribute to heat-related illness include: lack of shade, high temperatures and/or humidity, lack of break times, dehydration or lack of access to water/other hydrating liquids, too much clothing or gear, and lack of acclimatization to hot environments.

Additional factors that can make people more susceptible to heat-related illnesses include:

  • Age < 15 years or > 65 years
  • Certain prescription medications
  • Underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, or certain congenital disorders
  • Lack of physical fitness
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Recent Illness
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Drug use
Type of Heat-Related Illness
Type Symptoms First Aid
Heat Rash Heat rash appears on the skin, usually on the neck, arms, trunk, and groin, as small red bumps or pustules. Keep affected area(s) dry. Try to move to a cooler environment.
Heat Cramps Painful muscle spasms, usually in the legs and abdomen. Move to a cooler environment. Rest and sip on fluids, especially electrolyte-replacing fluids. Massage the affected extremity.
Heat Syncope Fainting, dizziness, light-headedness. Lie or sit down in a cool place with legs elevated; slowly drink water or an electrolyte-replacing fluid.
Rhabdomyolysis Muscle cramps, dark urine, weakness. Cease all physical exertion, drink water, and seek immediate medical attention.
Heat Exhaustion Weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, excess sweating, cool moist skin, pale skin, body temperature of 101–104oF, elevated heart rate, irritability, thirst. Move to a cooler environment. Loosen as much clothing as possible. Apply cool cloths to the skin if available. Sip on cool fluids containing electrolytes and carbohydrates or water. If unable to drink liquids or there are any changes in medical status, call 9-1-1. Monitor and do not return to activity until evaluated by a healthcare provider.
Heat Stroke Altered mental status, confusion, seizures, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, core body temperature > 104oF, may have excessive sweating or hot dry skin. Call 9-1-1 immediately; move out of the heat; stay with person until help arrives; try cooling measures with ice packs to the underarms, neck or groin or submerge in cold/ice water if safe to do so; be prepared to administer CPR if needed.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can lead to organ failure and death if not treated early. By recognizing signs and symptoms of heat illness early, you can intervene and reverse heat illness before it turns into heat stroke.

In all cases, if you suspect someone has a heat-related illness, move the person into a cooler environment and give them sips of cool liquids, preferably ones containing electrolyte and carbohydrates or water, and watch for any changes or improvements. If anything worsens, make sure to seek medical care right away.

Fact or fiction? Only people who work outside can get heat illnesses.

Fiction. People who work in warehouses, kitchens, manufacturing sites, or other areas where there may not be adequate ventilation or may be hot and humid can also be affected by heat illness.

Fact or fiction? Someone with suspected heat exhaustion should be able to go back to work after they are feeling a little better.

Fiction. People with suspected heat exhaustion should be evaluated by a healthcare professional and cleared to return to activity by their treating provider.

Fact or fiction? Heat-related illnesses are preventable.

Fact. Heat-related illnesses are preventable. If you are working or exercising in a hot and/or humid environment, try to acclimate yourself to the environment. Light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, adequate hydration, frequent rest and water breaks, and close monitoring can help in the prevention of heat-related illness.

This article is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition or to give medical advice. Always consult your primary care provider for healthcare instructions. External links are provided as references and do not indicate an endorsement by Medcor. External links are subject to other sites’ terms of use and privacy policies.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Heat Stress – Heat Related Illness,” https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/heatrelillness.html

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Heat-related Illnesses and First Aid,” https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/heat_illnesses.html; https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/heatrelated_illness_firstaid.html

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Heat: Personal Risk Factors,” https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/personal_risk_factors.html

Francis G. O’Connor, Douglas J. Casa, “Exertional heat illness in adolescents and adults: Epidemiology, thermoregulation, risk factors, and diagnosis,” UpToDate, updated December 20, 2019.

Robert Gauer, Bryce K. Meyers, “Heat-Related Illnesses,” https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/911950_1