Heat-related Illnesses

Before you head out for your summertime activities, we encourage you to get familiar with the signs of heat-related illnesses and their impacts! Because it isn't always easy to know the symptoms, treatments, and differences between heat-related illnesses, we have an article for you to reference.

Heat-related Illnesses


What are heat-related illnesses?

Exposure to abnormal or prolonged amounts of heat and humidity without relief or adequate fluid intake can cause various types of heat-related illness.

People with chronic health problems, or those who take certain medicines, may be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Individuals who are overweight or wear heavy clothing during exertion, are also more susceptible. Children and teens adjust more slowly than adults do to changes in environmental heat, and they often don't think to rest when having fun. Not drinking enough fluids when playing, exercising, or participating in sports, can lead to heat-related illnesses.

Heat related illness can occur in two ways, exertional and non-exertional. Exertional heat illness occurs when your child exerts themselves in a hot environment, such as practicing football on a hot day without any breaks. Non-exertional heat stroke occurs when a child is trapped in a hot environment. Examples of this would be an infant left in a car on a summer day, or a child with disabilities left in a hot apartment without access to water.


Heat-related illness includes the following conditions based on the severity of a person’s condition:
  • Heat cramps
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heat stroke

What are heat cramps?

Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat illness and consist of painful muscle cramps and spasms that occur during or after intense exercise and sweating in high heat.

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps and results from a loss of water and salt in the body. It occurs in conditions of extreme heat and excessive sweating without adequate fluid and salt replacement. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heat stroke.

What is heat stroke?

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps and results from a loss of water and salt in the body. It occurs in conditions of extreme heat and excessive sweating without adequate fluid and salt replacement. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heat stroke.

Symptoms and first-aid measures for heat injuries

The following chart contains the most common symptoms of heat-related illness. Specific treatment will be determined by your child's doctor and may include some, or more, of the following:


Heat cramps

Symptoms

  • Painful cramps, especially in the legs

  • Flushed, moist skin

First-aid and treatment

  • Move to a cool place and rest. Don't continue the activity.

  • Remove excess clothing and place cool cloths on skin; fan skin.

  • Give cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar.

  • Stretch cramped muscles slowly and gently.


Heat exhaustion

Symptoms

  • Muscle cramps

  • Pale, moist skin

  • Usually has a fever over 100.4° F (or 34° C)

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

  • Weakness

  • Anxiety and faint feeling

First-aid and treatment

  • Move to a cool place and rest.

  • Remove excess clothing and place cool cloths on skin; fan skin.

  • Give cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar.

  • If no improvement or unable to take fluids, take your child to an emergency room immediately. IV (intravenous) fluids may be needed.


Heat stroke

Symptoms

  • Warm, dry skin

  • High fever, usually over 104° F (or 40° C)

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

  • Agitation

  • Lethargy

  • Stupor

First-aid and treatment

  • Call 911 or your local emergency medical service. Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency and needs to be treated by a doctor.

  • Remove excess clothing and place cool cloths on skin; fan skin.

  • Place ice bags on the armpits and groin areas.

  • Offer cool fluids if alert and able to drink

How can heat stroke be prevented?

Some general guidelines to help protect you and your family from heat-related illnesses include the following:

  • Don't leave children unattended in a car. Even if the windows are cracked open. This is a leading cause of infant death from heat illness in the U.S.
  • Drink plenty of fluids during vigorous or outdoor activities (including sunbathing), especially on hot days. Drinks of choice include water and sports drinks. Don't drink alcohol or fluids with caffeine, such as tea, coffee, and cola. These can lead to dehydration.
  • On hot days, dress in light colored, lightweight, tightly-woven, and loose-fitting clothing.
  • Schedule vigorous activity and sports for cooler times of the day. Take rest periods in shady or cool areas.
  • Makes sure you are protected from the sun by wearing a hat and sunglasses. Use a sunscreen that is at least SPF (sun protection factor) 15.
  • Increase time spent outdoors gradually to get your body used to the heat.
  • Take frequent drink breaks and "wet down" or mist yourself with a spray bottle to avoid becoming overheated.
  • Athletes need frequent breaks for water or sports drinks. Most athletes should drink 200 to 300 milliliters (about 1 cup) of fluid every 15 minutes of exercise.
  • Try to spend as much time indoors as possible on very hot and humid days.
  • Before and after exercising, be sure to warm-up and cool-down.

If you have a medical condition or are taking medicine, consult your doctor for further advice for preventing heat-related illnesses.


As temperatures rise, going to the pool or on a boating trip can be fun ways to cool off this summer. To help you find out how to make these activities safer for your family, we have a guide full of great tips!

Learn More About Water Safety