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Summer Heat Can Bring on Serious Illnesses

Jenette Young of ComFor Care Senior Services

Summer Heat Can Bring on Serious Illnesses


Whether it’s working in the garden, riding your bike or taking a walk in the neighborhood, if it’s hot outside, you are at risk of developing a heat-related illness.


Extreme temperatures and higher humidity levels, combined with age, possible medical conditions and the length of time spent outdoors, may increase your risk of becoming ill.


Normally your body cools itself by perspiring (it is the evaporation of the sweat that lowers the body’s temperature).


However, when your temperature control system is over burdened (such as in high humidity when sweat does not evaporate quickly and your body cannot release heat fast enough), your temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures can lead to serious illness, damage to the brain and other vital organs or even death.


People over age 65, infants and children under age four, and those with conditions such as heart disease, obesity, circulation issues, sunburn and dehydration can have trouble regulating their body temperature.

Be aware of the signs and symptoms of these heat-related illnesses and know how to treat them:

  • Heat cramps – muscle pains or spasms that happen during exercise
  • Heat exhaustion – an illness that can precede heat stroke; symptoms vary and can include cool, moist skin; heavy sweating; fast, shallow breathing, a fast, weak pulse, dizziness/fainting, nausea/vomiting and headache
  • Heat stroke – a life-threatening illness in which the body’s temperature may rise above 106° F very quickly; symptoms can include: red, hot, dry skin; rapid, strong pulse; chills, throbbing headache, nausea, dizziness, hallucinations or slurred speech.

To treat heat cramps, cease the activity, drink juice or a sports drink and rest for a few hours in a cool location (further exertion can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke). Call your physician if you have a heart condition, are on a low-sodium diet or if the cramps persist for more than an hour.


Heat exhaustion is a serious condition that requires immediate treatment as it can quickly develop into heat stroke. At the first sign of symptoms, get into shade or air conditioning, rest, drink water and, if possible, take a cool shower or bath.


If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 immediately. If someone exhibits the signs of heat stroke, try to lower his or her temperature by spraying or sponging the person with water or by fanning until emergency medical personnel arrives.

How to Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following plans to avoid illness caused by extreme heat:

  • Stay cool indoors.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Replace salt and minerals.
  • Wear appropriate clothing.
  • Schedule outdoor activities carefully.
  • Pace yourself.
  • Use a buddy system.
  • Monitor people at high risk.
  • Adjust to the environment.
  • Do not leave children in cars.
  • Use common sense.