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Warmer weather means activities and fun outdoors. However, every year over 400 deaths occur in the United States due to heat stroke or as a result of high temperatures. Normally, the body has ways of keeping itself cool by letting heat escape through the skin and by evaporating sweat (perspiration). But sometimes the body does not cool properly or does not cool enough and heat-related illnesses may occur. Anyone can be susceptible to heat-related illnesses, however, young children and the elderly are at a greater risk. It’s important to be aware that heat-related illnesses can become serious or even deadly if left unattended. The following information summarizes the stages of heat-related illness and the basics of care:

  • Heat Cramps: symptoms include muscular pains, cramps and spasms due to strenuous activity, usually involving muscles in the arms, legs or abdomen. To care for heat cramps, stop activity and rest in a cool place. If fully alert, take sips of cool water. Avoid alcohol or caffeinated liquids. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths. Do not return to activity for a few hours after cramps have subsided. Seek medical attention if the cramps do not subside within an hour.
  • Heat Exhaustion: symptoms include skin that is cool, moist, clammy, pale, flushed or red and sweating heavily; headache; nausea or vomiting; weakness, dizziness or fainting; body temperature will be near normal. To care for heat exhaustion, go to a cool, shady place. Lie down and loosen clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. If no signs of nausea, sip cool water. Avoid liquids with alcohol or caffeine. If vomiting continues, call 9-1-1.
  • Heat Stroke: symptoms include hot, red and dry skin; no sweating; changes in or loss of consciousness; rapid pulse; rapid, shallow breathing; body temperature can be very high. Heat stroke is life-threatening! Call 9-1-1. In addition, go to a cool, shady place. Quickly cool the body by wrapping wet sheets around the body and fan it. If using ice packs, wrap them in a cloth and place them on each wrist, ankle, armpit, and on the neck to cool the large blood vessels. Watch for signs of breathing problems and make sure the airway is clear. Keep the person lying down.

The Sacramento Fire Department offers the following safety tips to Beat the Heat:

  • Stay in the shade. Wear a hat or use an umbrella.
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing.
  • Avoid strenuous activity. If you must, do so during the coolest part of the day, usually in the early morning hours and take regular breaks in a cool place.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated. Avoid alcohol which can dehydrate the body and reduce awareness of potential signs of heat stress. Also, avoid caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and sodas which can also dehydrate the body.
  • If you do not have air conditioning, spend as much time as possible at public locations that are air conditioned such as senior centers, libraries, movie theaters, indoor malls, etc.
  • Avoid using the oven or clothes dryer during the hottest part of the day.
  • Never leave infants, children or animals unattended inside a vehicle.