Hot weather? Know the symptoms and cures for these 3 heat illnesses

Courtesy of the San Diego Regional Fire Foundation

This summer, San Diego temperatures topped 100 degrees in the valleys and 124 in the desert. 124 is the highest temperature reading ever recorded in San Diego County, and according to the National Weather Service  it is just 10 degrees shy of the hottest temperature ever recorded on the planet (Death Valley, 1913, 134 degrees).

During periods of intense heat, there are three increasing stages of illness to watch for: heat cramps, which is the mildest, heat exhaustion and heat stroke which is the most severe stage and can be deadly.

The basic cause of these illness is the lack of water and salt in the body. These stages are a continuum and each person might react differently at each stage. The chart above is a general guideline for heatstroke identification and first aid.


Stage 1: Heat Cramps

  • Heat cramps are muscle spasms that wrack the body when it has lost large amounts of salt and water through exercise.
  • Symptoms include cramps occur in the abdomen, arms, and calves.


Stage 2: Heat exhaustion

According to WebMd, There are two types of heat exhaustion:

  • Water depletion, which can include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness
  • Salt depletion: includes nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness
  • Although heat exhaustion isn’t as serious as heatstroke, without proper intervention, it can become heatstroke.


Stage 3: Heatstroke

Heatstroke, AKA sunstroke, AKA hyperthermia is caused by your body heating to a core temperature of 104 degrees F or higher. This can be caused by prolonged exposure to heat or physical exertion in high temperatures. Heatstroke causes your brain or other vital organs to swell, which could cause permanent damage or death.



Heatstroke can occur as a result of:

  • Excess clothing that prevents sweat from evaporating to cool your body
  • Drinking alcohol, which can hinder the body’s ability to regulate temperature
  • Dehydration due to fluids lost through sweating

Risk factors

Several factors increase your heatstroke risk:

  • Adults over 65 and children up to age 4 are more at risk for heatstroke, because their central nervous systems are not fully functional
  • Sudden exposure or exertion in hot weather
  • Humidity of 60% or more hinders sweat evaporation, which compromises the body’s ability to cool itself
  • Inability to get out of the heat. Fans help, but air conditioning is the most effective way to cool air and reduce humidity
  • Chronic health conditions or obesity
  • Medications. Be especially careful in hot weather if you take:
    • Vasoconstrictors – narrow blood vessels
    • Beta blockers – regulate blood pressure by blocking adrenaline
    • Diuretics – reduce sodium and water
    • Antidepressants or antipsychotics
    • Stimulants

Check with your doctor to see if health conditions and medications can affect your susceptibility to heat illnesses.



If you suspect someone has heatstroke, call 911 or transport the person to a hospital. Any delay seeking medical help can be fatal.

While waiting for emergency service, cool the overheated person by:

  • Get them into shade
  • removing unnecessary clothing
  • Cool the person
  • Do not take fever reducing medications like Tylenol

If emergency response is delayed, call the emergency room for additional instructions.


Preventing Heatstroke

If you must go outdoors on a hot day, you can prevent heatstroke by taking these steps:

  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored, clothing, and a brim hat
  • Use sunscreen with SPF of 30+
  • Drink extra fluids – sports beverages or fruit juice – to replace salt and other electrolytes
  • Avoid fluids containing caffeine or alcohol
  • Reschedule outdoor activities to early morning or after sunset
  • Monitor urine. Dark urine is a sign of dehydration
  • Stay in contact with friends and family
  • Know the cooling centers in your area. Cooling centers can be found through a San Diego County interactive map. Type in your zip code and it will show you cool zones nearby

Read more about symptoms and treatments on

During a heat wave, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that seniors living alone be visited at least twice daily and monitored closely for signs of heatstroke or exhaustion.

For more information,  visit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.