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Heat-Related Illness
Heat Stroke (Sunstroke) & Heat Exhaustion
Heat stroke is caused by a substantial rise in body temperature when the body cannot rid itself of excess heat. Heat exhaustion is a mild form of shock from excess exposure to heat. Signs to looks for include:
  • Dizziness, nausea, confusion, and often unconsciousness
  • Headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and sometime abdominal cramps
  • Skin very hot and dry (usually no sweat)
  • Pale and clammy skin, profuse sweating
  • Very rapid onset

Things you can do if you suspect heat stroke are move the person to a cool area, lower the body temperatures as quickly as possible, and immerse or pour cool water over the affected person. Seek medical attention immediately since heat stroke can be fatal.

Heat Cramps
Heat cramps are painful muscle cramps resulting from profuse perspiration. Symptoms may include:
  • Mild to severe cramps in the arms, legs, and/or abdomen from working in a hot environment or drinking iced drinks very quickly or in too large quantities
  • Pale, moist skin with heavy sweating
  • Occasional nausea or faintness

Things you can do if you suspect heat cramps move the person to a cool area and do not massage the muscles. If not nauseated, slowly give them one or two glasses of a sports drink. Do not resume the activity that caused the cramps for at least 12 hours or the cramps may return.

Heat Rash (Prickly Head)
Heat rash is caused by blocked sweat ducts and is characterized by skin rashes and a tingling or prickling sensation where the rash is. Things you can do if you suspect heat rash are to shower or wash frequently, dry the area thoroughly, change into dry clothing, and avoid exposure to heat until the rash is gone.

How to Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses
  • Because the elderly are particularly susceptible to the effects of heat, they or their caretakers should make a special effort to follow the guidelines listed.
  • Because young children under five years of age, and especially less than one year, are also sensitive to heat's effects, parents and caretakers should be careful not to overdress them, and to give them plenty of fluids.
  • Ensure adequate food (light meals) and fluid intake. Do not consume alcohol and avoid caffeine, and see your physician about whether you need additional salt.
  • Exercise early or late in the day, and wear light-colored clothing.
  • In cases of health emergencies, you should call your physician or visit your local hospital emergency room.
  • Remember, the heat can affect pets. Provide plenty of fresh water and a shaded area. Ask your veterinarian for advice, especially if the heat stresses your pet.
  • Spend whatever time possible in air-conditioned areas, even if only a few hours each day. Go to a store, mall, library, or other public facility if necessary.
  • Wear a hat when outdoors, especially if working outside on construction or landscaping projects. 
  • Whenever possible, reduce activity levels in very hot weather.

For more information on the harmful effects of heat, contact your physician or the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, Epidemiology Section, at (901) 544-7717.

Vasco A. Smith, Jr. County Administration Building • (901) 222-2300
160 North Main Street Memphis TN 38103
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