Section: Saint Barnabas Medical Center News

Beating the Heat in Essex County: Understanding Heat Illnesses


In order to beat the heat this summer, it's important to look out for your health and the health of those around you. While hot weather can be dangerous for anyone, people aged 60 and older are especially vulnerable to its threat due to underlying health conditions that make them less able to adapt to heat.

Regardless of age, Barnabas Health Emergency Department physicians urge individuals to be on high alert for heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

  • Heat Cramps: The mildest form of heat-related illness, heat cramps consist of painful muscle cramps and spasms.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Exhaustion occurs when the body has been losing essential fluids and salts, leaving the body unable to cool itself. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include pale, moist skin; cramps; fever; nausea/vomiting; diarrhea; headache; fatigue/faintness; and anxiety. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
  • Heat Stroke: The most severe form of heat illness, this life-threatening condition occurs when the body's heat-regulatory system is inundated by heat exposure. Symptoms include warm, dry skin; high fever; rapid heart rate; nausea/vomiting; headache; fatigue; confusion/agitation; stupor/lethargy and in severe cases, seizures, coma or even death. Seek immediate medical attention.

What to Do: Move to a cool area to rest, drink water and sports drinks, stretch muscles if they are cramped, remove clothing, place wet towels on skin or immerse the body in cold water, place ice bags on the armpits and groin areas. If symptoms are not relieved or you believe someone is experiencing heat stroke, call 9-1-1 or seek immediate emergency medical attention.

Barnabas Health's heat illness prevention tips

  • Drink plenty of liquids. Dehydration is the root of many heat- related health problems. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, as they can contribute to dehydration.
  • Plan ahead. The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you plan to exercise or work outside, schedule it for a cooler time of day.
  • Monitor the heat index. The higher the humidity, the tougher it is for the body to cool itself.
  • Chill out. Avoid strenuous activity, especially outdoors.
  • Time out. Every once in a while, retreat to an air-conditioned or shaded area and let your body cool off. If you don't have air conditioning, consider visiting a local mall or library to stay cool.
  • Listen up. Keep in tune with what is happening within your body. Don't ignore symptoms or hope they will go away. This is your body's way of communicating that something is wrong.

For more information about heat illness, visit the Barnabas Health Library.

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