The Health Hazards of Summer Heat

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: December 4th, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

Heat is often referred to as the silent killer. While a scorching day is much less dramatic than floods and tornadoes, searing temperatures kill more people in the U.S. than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined. Excessive heat can take its toll on just about everyone, but the elderly, young children, obese, and those with chronic health problems are most likely to be vulnerable to the heat. Here’s what you need to know to stay healthy in hot weather.

Woman Following Summer Heat Safety Tips Cooling Off in Front of Fan


The more you sweat, the bigger your risk of dehydration, which can lead to other health issues. Excessive sweating means more blood goes toward your body surface for cooling—and less is available for your muscles, brain and other internal organs. One of the biggest dangers of prolonged sweating is it deprives the bloodstream of water, further reducing its capacity to deliver nutrients, clear out wastes, lubricate joints and cool you later. Did you know you can easily sweat out one quart of water during an hour of heavy work in hot weather, or 3/4 quart in less strenuous work? And during a heat wave, you don’t even have to be active–a person can sweat up to 1.5 quarts of liquid every hour.

The best way to reduce your heat stress risks while working is to steadily replenish the water you lose as sweat. Frequent small amounts, such as 6 to 8 ounces every 15 minutes, works better than chugging large amounts less often. And don’t rely solely on your level of thirst to indicate how much you need to drink. Most people do not feel thirsty until they’ve already lost a dangerous amount of fluid.

Heat illness

The beginning stages of heat illness can be treated by drinking water and resting. As overheating escalates, it becomes heat exhaustion. Some of the warning signs of heat exhaustion are dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, heavy sweating, and headache. An effective way to treat heat exhaustion is to relocate to the shade, drink lots of water, and soak in a cool bath or use cool compresses.

Heat stroke

If left untreated, heat exhaustion can become heat stroke—it occurs when body temp reaches 104 degrees–which can be serious and life-threatening. What happens during heat stroke is the body’s ability to thermoregulate completely breaks down. The body can’t even sweat. If the body can’t be cooled, a soaring body temperature can lead to brain damage and death. Symptoms include

muscle cramping, fast heart beat, vomiting, flushed skin, headache, and mental confusion. If you see someone in this condition, call 911 and try to cool them as quickly as possible by moving them to the shade or AC or a cool bath and compresses.

Heat safety tips

Drink responsibly

Drink continuously throughout the day—don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which are dehydrating. Soda and fruit drinks have too many carbohydrates, too little sodium, to be good choices.

Dress for success

Lightweight light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and helps your body maintain normal temperatures. For exercising, opt for Loose clothing that allows the air to circulate around you.

Go outside strategically

Avoid exercising outdoors during the hottest part of the day, which is from 11 a.m. to 64 p.m. Instead, schedule your workout as close to sunrise or sunset as possible. Go ahead, give yourself permission to slow down during the heat of the day.

Seek out AC

Ac has its advantages, especially during a heat wave. Even if you can’t afford your own ac, or are opposed to it for environmental reasons, spending some time each day in an air conditioned environment such as a library or movie cinema can be a lifesaver.