Summer Heatwave Survival Tips

As the summer sun beckons, our thoughts turn to backyards, pools and beaches, picnics, and the wonderful world of outdoor fun. It is a glorious time of year but, sometimes, summer’s heat can be a bit too much for our bodies to handle.

When a heatwave strikes, knowing how to prevent heat-related illness can ward off trouble before it’s too late. Be smart this summer … know how to prevent overheating and enjoy summer fun to the fullest.

Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness
From the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
  • Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar — these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.
  • Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library–even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
  • Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.

Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on:

  • Infants and young children
  • People aged 65 or older
  • People who have a mental illness
  • Those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure
  • Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.

If you must be out in the heat:

  • Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage. Remember the warning in the first “tip” (above), too.
  • Try to rest often in shady areas.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels).

Next: Signs of Heat-Related Illness and What To Do

Heat Stroke and Heat-Related Illness
According to the CDC, heat-related illness occurs when your body cannot properly cool itself by sweating. Heat emergencies fall into three categories of increasing severity: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Young children, the elderly, and people with serious health conditions are at particular risk of heat stroke. Risk factors include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use. Some other causes of heatstroke include medications like diuretics, neuroleptics, phenothiazines, and anticholinergics; excessive exercise; problems with sweat glands; and overdressing.

Very high body temperatures can damage the brain and other vital organs. If the problem isn’t addressed, heat cramps (caused by loss of salt from heavy sweating) can lead to heat exhaustion (caused by dehydration), which can progress to heatstroke. Heatstroke, the most serious of the three, can cause shock, brain damage, organ failure, and even death.

Early Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness:
From the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

  • Profuse sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Thirst
  • Muscle cramps

Later Symptoms Include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cool, moist skin
  • Dark urine

Symptoms of Heat Stroke Include:

  • Fever (temperature above 104 °F)
  • Irrational behavior
  • Extreme confusion
  • Dry, hot, and red skin
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Rapid, weak pulse
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

If You Suspect Heat-Related Illness:

  • Have the person lie down in a cool place. Raise the person’s feet about 12 inches.
  • Apply cool, wet cloths (or cool water directly) to the person’s skin and use a fan to lower body temperature. Place cold compresses on the person’s neck, groin, and armpits.
  • If alert, give the person beverages to sip (such as Gatorade), or make a salted drink by adding a teaspoon of salt per quart of water. Give a half cup every 15 minutes. Cool water will do if salt beverages are not available.
  • For muscle cramps, give beverages as above and massage affected muscles gently, but firmly, until they relax.
  • CALL 9-1-1 If the person shows signs of shock (bluish lips and fingernails and decreased alertness), starts having seizures, loses consciousness, has rapid pulse or rapid breathing, a fever over 102 °F, or if condition continues to worsen.

What NOT To Do:

  • Do NOT underestimate the seriousness of heat illness, especially if the person is a child, elderly, or injured.
  • Do NOT give the person medications that are used to treat fever (such as aspirin or acetaminophen). They will not help, and they may be harmful.
  • Do NOT give the person salt tablets.
  • Do NOT give the person liquids that contain alcohol or caffeine. They will interfere with the body’s ability to control its internal temperature.
  • Do NOT use alcohol rubs on the person’s skin.
  • Do NOT give the person anything by mouth (not even salted drinks) if the person is vomiting or unconscious.

Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institutes of Health

More Summer Reading
Tips for a Salmonella Safe Summer
Do’s and Don’ts for Fabulous Summer Feet
10 Things to Know About Flip Flops
’Tis the Season for Sunburned Feet
Surviving Summer with Multiple Sclerosis

Image credit:

Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis,” a memoir. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Author’s Guild, and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo


David C
David C10 months ago

thanks, stay safe

Clare O
Clare O'Beara10 months ago

tell Trump and his oil friends that enough is enough

Clare O
Clare O'Beara10 months ago

plant trees. They create shade which cools the building, garden and city. They may also clean up the air enough to hold us below three degrees of warming. We have passed two degrees but it's not announced yet.

Sherry K
Sherry Kohn10 months ago

Many thanks to you !

Sue H
Sue H10 months ago

Still important and helpful information, thanks.

Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer10 months ago

Oh, and thank you.

Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer10 months ago

Good DO NOT section

Chrissie R
Chrissie R10 months ago

Very timely article!!! We're in the midst of a two week heat wave.

Sophie L
Past Member 10 months ago

thanks for sharing

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogers3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.