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Dangers of excessive heat exposure

  • Published
  • By Staff Reports
  • 82 AMDS Public Health Flight
Heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year and even more heat-related illnesses. 

Historically, from 1979 to 2003, excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths in the U.S.  During this period, more people in this country died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. 

Therefore, it is essential to know how to prevent, detect, and react to heat related injury and illnesses.

Prevention is very important when doing strenuous activities in the heat. Some guidelines to go by are; drink plenty of water, take frequent breaks, and stay in shaded areas when possible.

Lack of daily water intake is the major cause of heat related injuries and illnesses.  It is essential to get the necessary amount of water because our bodies also loose water daily.  Dehydration occurs when the loss of body fluids, mostly water, exceeds the amount that is taken in.

There are three types of heat related illnesses:
1. Heat cramps
2. Heat exhaustion
3. Heat stroke

Heat cramps are the first sign that you are being affected by the heat.  Painful muscle cramps and spasms usually occur in the legs or abdomen when an individual is experiencing heat cramps.  These cramps and spasms may worsen and lead to heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps but not as severe as heat stroke.  It is the body's natural reaction to an excessive loss of water and salt, normally through sweat.  Heavy sweating, nausea, weakness and pale or clammy skin may accompany heat exhaustion.  These symptoms may get progressively worse, leading to heat stroke.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness.  This is the body's final defense mechanism.  The body is no longer able to cool down because the body temperature rises rapidly and can no longer sweat.  If emergency treatment is not given, heat stroke may result in death.  Other symptoms may include hallucinations, chills, confusion and dizziness, slurred speech and high body temperature. 

Treatment may depend on the severity of the heat illness. For heat cramps and heat exhaustion stop the activity you are doing, drink plenty of water, and sit in a cool area. For heat stroke, call 911 ASAP to get immediate care.

For more information, please contact the 82d AMDS Public Health Flight at 676-3052 or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at: