Are You Ready Series: Heat Safety

Heat related deaths are the number 1 weather related killer in the United States. Although this type of death is preventable, annually many people succumb to extreme heat. Historically, from 1979-2003, excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths in the United States. During this period, more people in this country died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. In 2001, 300 deaths were caused by excessive heat exposure.

People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself through sweating but under extreme heat, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly and very high body temperatures can damage the brain or other vital organs.

Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions related to the risk include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use.

Because heat-related deaths are preventable, people need to be aware of who is at greatest risk and what actions can be taken to prevent a heat-related illness or death. The elderly, the very young, and those with mental illness and chronic diseases are all at highest risk. However, even young and healthy individuals can succumb to heat if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather. Your risk to heat related illnesses can be reduced by staying hydrated and being in an air conditioned environment. If a home is not air-conditioned, spend time in public facilities that are air-conditioned.

What Is Extreme Heat?

Conditions of extreme heat are defined as summertime temperatures that are substantially hotter and/or more humid than average for location at that time of year. Humid or muggy conditions, which add to the discomfort of high temperatures, occur when a “dome” of high atmospheric pressure traps hazy, damp air near the ground. Extremely dry and hot conditions can provoke dust storms and low visibility. Droughts occur when a long period passes without substantial rainfall. A heat wave combined with a drought is a very dangerous situation.

During Hot Weather

To protect your health when temperatures are extremely high, remember to keep cool and use common sense. The following tips are important:

Drink Plenty of Fluids. During hot weather you will need to increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. During heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour. 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.

Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.

Replace Salt and Minerals. Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These are necessary for your body and must be replaced. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour.  Drinks that have electrolytes can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. However, if you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage or taking salt tablets.

Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen. Wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the skin. If you must go outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) along with 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) 30 minutes prior to going out. Continue to reapply it according to the package directions.

Schedule Outdoor Activities Carefully. If you must be outdoors, try to limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. Try to rest often in shady areas so that your body’s thermostat will have a chance to recover.

Pace Yourself. If you are not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity. Get into a cool area or at least into the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint.

Stay Cool Indoors. 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. Use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.

Use a Buddy System. When working in the heat, monitor the condition of your co-workers and have someone do the same for you. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness. If you are 65 years of age or older, have a friend or relative call to check on you twice a day during a heat wave. If you know someone in this age group, check on them at least twice a day.

Monitor Those at High Risk. Although anyone at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others.

  • Infants and young children are sensitive to the effects of high temperatures and rely on others to regulate their environments and provide adequate liquids.
  • People 65 years of age or older may not compensate for heat stress efficiently and are less likely to sense and respond to change in temperature.
  • People who are overweight may be prone to heat sickness because of their tendency to retain more body heat.
  • People who overexert during work or exercise may become dehydrated and susceptible to heat sickness.
  • People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation, may be affected by extreme heat.
  • 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.

Adjust to the Environment. Be aware that any sudden change in temperature, such as an early summer heat wave, will be stressful to your body. You will have a greater tolerance for heat if you limit your physical activity until you become accustomed to the heat. If you travel to a hotter climate, allow several days to become acclimated before attempting any vigorous exercise, and work up to it gradually.

Do Not Leave Children in Cars. Even in cool temperatures, cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly. Even with the windows cracked open, interior temperatures can rise almost 20 degrees Fahrenheit within the first 10 minutes. Anyone left inside is at risk for serious heat-related illnesses or even death. Children who are left unattended in parked cars are at greatest risk for heat stroke, and possibly death. When traveling with children, remember to do the following:

  • Never leave infants, children or pets in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked open.
  • To remind yourself that a child is in the car, keep a stuffed animal in the car seat.  When the child is buckled in, place the stuffed animal in the front of the driver.
  • When leaving your car, check to be sure everyone is out of the car.  Do not overlook any children who have fallen asleep in the car.

Use Common Sense. Remember to keep cool and use common sense:

  • Avoid hot foods and heavy meals—they add heat to your body.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and replace salts and minerals in your body. Do not take salt tablets unless under medical supervision.
  • Dress infants and children in cool, loose clothing and shade their heads and faces with hats or an umbrella.
  • Limit sun exposure during mid-day hours and in places of potential severe exposure such as beaches.
  • Do not leave infants, children, or pets in a parked car.
  • Provide plenty of fresh water for your pets, and leave the water in a shady area.

Portions of this guide were adapted from the CDC, American Red Cross and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Prepper's Blueprint

Tess Pennington is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint, a comprehensive guide that uses real-life scenarios to help you prepare for any disaster. Because a crisis rarely stops with a triggering event the aftermath can spiral, having the capacity to cripple our normal ways of life. The well-rounded, multi-layered approach outlined in the Blueprint helps you make sense of a wide array of preparedness concepts through easily digestible action items and supply lists.

Tess is also the author of the highly rated Prepper’s Cookbook, which helps you to create a plan for stocking, organizing and maintaining a proper emergency food supply and includes over 300 recipes for nutritious, delicious, life-saving meals. 

Visit her web site at for an extensive compilation of free information on preparedness, homesteading, and healthy living.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published July 1st, 2013
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10 Responses to Are You Ready Series: Heat Safety

  1. helen says:

    CAUTION_  Sports drinks today RARELY replace lost electrolytes and are loaded with HFCS or toxic artificial sweeteners like aspartame, splenda, rebiana/erythritol, acesulfame K and others.  

    Safe sports drink –

    Replace Salt and Minerals. Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These are necessary for your body and must be replaced. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. However, if you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage or taking salt tablets.

  2. do you have facebook or twitter?

  3. Aptitude Design says:

    Heat stroke is the #1 killer in Australia. Start the day with water, if nothing else. Take some with you. Stop in the shade for a minute or three; radiant heat from roads, rocks, or walls is best avoided. moving air is cheaper to use for cooling than any air-con set-up; the mouth is where most moisture escapes, in windy conditions, so keep it closed. Salt-loss: we get out salts & minerals when we eat, not when we drink; so avoid digging ditches or the like. Of temperature Celsius times [ 1+ Humidity%] exceeds 26, heatstroke is possible.

  4. Joe says:

    Learn the symptoms of heat illnesses…VERY IMPORTANT. Heat stroke KILLS. Heat exhaustion does not. Learn the difference and how to get cool quick. (my fav method here in AZ is wet cloth over bare skin…acts as an evaporative cooler. Will NOT work in high humidity environments. However, water immersion WILL work (body heat losses are much faster in water than in air).

  5. Dan says:

    This is such timely, important information with the extreme heat that has been experienced nationwide recently.

    Unfortunately, those fruity, sugary, sometimes alcoholic drinks that are popular during the summer can be a big contributor to heat sickness. Be aware of your intake and remember to up the water intake to combat the effects. 

  6. GoneWithTheWind says:

    When I’m working outside in hot weather I soak my shirt in water.  Way cool!

  7. Ron says:

    Beware of commercial sun screens.
    Coconut oil is best.

  8. Linda says:

    Somebody suffering from HEATSTROKE will not be able to sweat anymore, might be incoherent and pale.

    Immediate action is required! Place cool towels in armpits, groin area and on wrists and ankles. This is where blood is closest to the surface and will therefore cool off faster. Do NOT give water until the victim is coherent since there is a high risk of fluids entering the lungs. 

  9. genann59 says:

    I am 70 and take medicine that puts me at risk of heat stroke should the grid go down. so I have bought a couple small generators to use – one to keep the fridge alive as long as possible and the other to use during the day to keep one small bedroom cool enough to keep me and my pets, some of which are also elderly, alive. Also know from past experience that getting into the shower or at least pouring water on me and my clothing and on the pets will make it feel much cooler. I have wading pools outside for the animals and can sit in one, in the shade, with my clothes on if necessary. Does wonders. We are having a hotter than usual summer, with the heat index during June being well over 100 almost every afternoon. Really makes you think about how you would deal with the heat without electricity. I have about 50 gallons of gas stored around the property to use in the generators and, of course, as long as there is gas to keep the car running, the car would provide life saving air conditioning if needed. I have one small generator that is just big enough to keep a 5000 BTU AC running in one small closed off bedroom. The other two are much larger, and could be used if necessary to keep things going until they were no longer needed or the power came back on. Following Mr Johnson’s advice about keeping food in fridge and freezer to a minimum during the heat wave, so the loss, if power goes out would be minimal. Lots of canned foods and sterno cookers on hand to fix canned food if necessary. Can use generators to prepare microwave foods as well. For the time being. Have camp stoves and other propane cooking devices. Doubt I would want to use them any more than absolutely necessary during the summer. Summer down here near the Mexican border is 6-8 months. Winter is like spring or fall in most areas up north.

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