Heat-Related Illnesses

People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn't enough. In such cases, a person's body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.

Who's at Risk?

Everyone! Although anyone can potentially be at risk during our summer heat season, children, elderly and animals are extremely susceptible to heat illnesses.

Other high risk persons include:
  • Our Homeless Population
  • People Who Are Ill and/or on Certain Medications
  • People Misusing Substances
  • Those Who Are Overweight
  • Those Who Work Outdoors (Adults and Young Adults)
Heat Illness Signs Flyer
  1. Heat Stroke
  2. Heat Exhaustion
  3. Heat Cramps
  4. Heat Rash

About Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

Warning Signs

Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:
  • An Extremely High Body Temperature (Above 103°F)
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Rapid, Strong Pulse
  • Red, Hot and Dry Skin (No Sweating)
  • Throbbing Headache
  • Unconsciousness

What to Do

If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the victim. Do the following:
  • Get the victim to a shady area.
  • Cool the victim rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
  • If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
  • Do not give the victim alcohol to drink.
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.


Information provided by NCEH's Health Studies Branch.