8 Ways to Prevent Heat Illness During a Heat Wave

July 15, 2020 - Katie McCallum

During the summer, every day probably feels like a scorcher. During a heat wave, however, the heat can literally become one — posing a threat to your health.

Heat illness occurs when a person's body overheats as a result of exposure to hot weather. In most cases, heat illness results from exercising outside in the heat without proper hydration. But, when it's really hot outside, a person doesn't even have to be exercising to overheat.

Staying safe in the heat is always important. During a heat wave, taking heat safety and heat stroke seriously are more important than ever.

Here are 8 ways to prevent heat illness when it's unbearably hot outside:

1. Avoid becoming dehydrated

Staying properly hydrated can help your body regulate its temperature.

If you need to be outdoors, plan to leave your house already well-hydrated. This doesn't mean just chugging a bunch of water before going outside, by the way — it means staying hydrated throughout the day.

You'll also need to plan ways to maintain your hydration while in the heat.

2. Know that a parked car can be deadly

The temperature outside is hot, but the temperature in a parked car is even hotter.

According to the CDC, it only takes 10 minutes for the temperature of a car parked in the sun to increase by almost 20 degrees, even with the windows cracked. Avoid being in a hot car, and never leave children or animals in one — even if its is in the shade and the windows are cracked.

3. Dress for the heat

Tight-fitting clothes and layered clothing can make it harder for sweat to evaporate from your body — resulting in less efficient release of excess body heat.

When it's hot, it's important to dress light.

For extra protection from the sun that doesn't increase your chance of overheating, consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat and lathering on plenty of sweat-resistant sunscreen.

4. Seek air conditioning or shade as often as possible

While we're all eager to head outdoors as a safe way to get out of the house during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's probably best to limit the time you spend outdoors during a heat advisory.

If you plan to spend time outside, and particularly if you work outdoors, be sure to take frequent breaks that include time to rehydrate and cool down in the shade.

5. Exercise indoors or early in the morning

Strenuous activity can make it even easier to overheat on a hot day, so you may want to consider swapping your outdoor workouts for indoor ones.

And when a heat advisory and pandemic overlap, the safest place to exercise indoors is probably in your home.

If you can't exercise at home, set your alarm and plan for an early morning workout outside. While you may be tempted into thinking that an evening run is okay, know that the evenings often don't cool down as much as you'd expect during a heat wave.

6. Rethink those outdoor day-drinking plans

Alcohol does more than impair your motor skills and judgement, it can also impair your body's ability to regulate your temperature.

During a heat advisory, it's best to limit the amount of alcohol you drink while in the heat.

7. Protect yourself from sunburn

In addition to increasing your risk of developing skin cancer, a sunburn can limit your body's ability to cool you down.

This means it's important to apply plenty of sweat-resistant sunscreen before heading outdoors — even if you plan to be submersed in water all afternoon. And remember, sunscreen wears off, so you'll need to reapply your sunscreen regularly.

8. Know the signs of heat illness and when to seek emergency care

During a Texas summer, anyone who is outside and active during the day is at risk for heat illness.

While heat cramps and flushed skin are milder symptoms of heat illness, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, in particular, are more concerning.

Heat exhaustion can involve symptoms such as:

  • Weakness
  • Cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fainting

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness. It's a life-threatening condition that can damage the brain and other vital organs, making heat stroke a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment in an emergency room. If you or someone you love is showing signs of heat stroke, call 911 immediately.

The most common symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • A body temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, as measured by a rectal thermometer
  • Sudden confusion or hallucinations
  • Difficulty walking
  • Seizures
  • Fainting

In addition, people suffering heat stroke may also experience racing heart rate, rapid breathing, overly warm skin or skin redness, vomiting or diarrhea, muscle cramps and weakness, and throbbing headaches.

Rest assured, our emergency rooms are safe during COVID-19

While you may be concerned about visiting the emergency room during COVID-19, rest assured that emergency rooms are safe — taking every precaution to protect your health during this pandemic.


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