Heat Related Illnesses

14 June 2023

As temperatures start to climb, it is very easy to become overheated without realizing it. There is a whole progression of conditions that result from becoming overheated. It can happen to anyone of any age, from an infant, to a child, to a well conditioned adult, an out-of-shape adult, or a senior. Here is the general evolvement. Just remember that if you ignore a symptom or two, you can find yourself in real trouble.

Heat rash

Sometimes called prickly heat, this is red bumps or blisters that form when sweat is trapped under the skin. It will appear wherever the perspiration can be trapped like in the crook of your arm, armpits, groin, at the waist, etc. While itchy and uncomfortable, it should not be life threatening.

Good solutions are a cool cloth, a shower or bath and air drying, change of clothes (preferably cotton), and using a fan. Keep hydrated. If it persists, check with a pharmacist about calamine lotion or an OTC antihistamine. For babies, young children, or women who are pregnant, check with your physician.

If the blisters fill with pus, the area swells or gets deeper red or the redness spreads, or a fever develops, check with your doctor.

Heat cramps

Sweating to the point that an individual loses salts and fluids can result in muscle cramps. These spasms generally occur in the legs, arms, abdomen, and back, but can actually strike in any muscle group.

If these occur, stop what you are doing, cool down, and rest. Drink clear juice or a sports drink that contains electrolytes. If neither of these are available, drink water. Carefully stretch the muscle group or apply a gentle massage. After the cramping subsides, do not do any strenuous activity for several hours or more.

The spasms should diminish and completely stop after an hour or so. If they do not reduce in severity or last significantly longer, seek medical attention by contacting your primary care physician or an urgent care facility.

Heat exhaustion

Exposure to high heat, especially coupled with high humidity, and physical activity will cause the body to overheat. There are a number of symptoms that can come on suddenly or gradually over a period of time, especially if the exertion is prolonged.

  • Profuse sweating
  • Skin cool to the touch and moist, possibly goosebumps
  • Faintness, dizziness, fatigue, possibly from low blood pressure on standing up
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Prompt treatment is important to prevent this condition from progressing into heatstroke, which can be life threatening.

If you think you have heat exhaustion, stop all activity, move to a cool space, and rest. Drink cool (not cold) water or sports drink.

If the symptoms do not subside within an hour or become worse, seek medical attention.


Heatstroke is the most serious form of illness resulting from high temperatures and exertion. If left untreated, heatstroke will quickly damage kidneys, heart, and brain. The longer treatment is delayed the greater the likelihood of severe damage or death.

Symptoms include:

  • Confusion, hallucinations, agitation, or other altered mental state
  • Inability to sweat and/or dry, red skin
  • Dizziness, fainting, slurred speech
  • Seizures

If you suspect heatstroke, do not delay. Call for emergency medical attention at once. In the meantime, move the individual to shade or indoors. Remove any excess clothing. Cool the body with a shower, garden hose, fan, ice packs, or wet towels on the head, neck, armpits, and groin.

Risk Factors

Although anyone can experience heat-related illness, there are some people who are more likely to be affected.

  • Age – Babies, young children, and older adults.
  • Activities – Working outdoors, especially in the heat of the day or in the sun.
  • Dehydration – Sweating too much and not replacing fluids or drinking alcohol outside on a hot day.
  • Adjustment to temperatures – Gradual exposure to heat will allow the body to adapt better. For example, starting a rigorous workout routine in hot weather or traveling from a colder climate to something more tropical.


Taking reasonable precautions is one of the best ways to prevent getting sick. Keep hydrated; rest frequently in the shade or cooler environment. Most importantly be aware of your body and any changes. Recognizing the symptoms of too much heat can forestall a more serious condition. That includes keeping an eye on others around you.

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