Posted: June 2023
(4 Minute Read)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), extreme heat is responsible for an average of 618 deaths in the United States annually. Heat exhaustion is a common condition that can occur when the body overheats and if left untreated, it can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening emergency. Knowing first aid tips for heat exhaustion and taking steps to prevent it allows you to enjoy the summer sun safely.
Heat exhaustion is a condition that occurs when the body overheats and can no longer cool itself effectively. It is a common heat-related illness that can develop quickly, especially during summer. The CDC estimates that approximately 67,000 people in the United States visit the emergency room to be treated for heat-related illnesses each year, with heat exhaustion being one of the most common.
Before developing heat exhaustion, your body may display preliminary symptoms such as heat rash and muscle cramps. Heat rash occurs when sweat ducts become blocked, often during hot and humid weather, with symptoms usually appearing in sweat-prone areas like the face, neck, chest, breasts and groin. Symptoms can range from small raised papules to inflamed lumps and may be itchy.
Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms that often occur during heavy exercise or physical activity in hot environments due to fluid and electrolyte loss. To combat these symptoms, it is important not to wait until you are thirsty to rehydrate your body. Sip sports drinks every 30 minutes to maintain your body’s optimal hydration level and replace any electrolytes like sodium, potassium and magnesium lost through sweating.
If these mild symptoms of heat illness are left untreated, you may experience additional symptoms of heat exhaustion, including heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea and headache. These symptoms can occur when the body loses too much fluid and electrolytes through sweating and becomes dangerously dehydrated.
If heat exhaustion is left untreated, it can progress to heat stroke, a more serious and potentially life-threatening condition. While heat exhaustion can make you feel very unwell, it does not usually cause permanent damage to your organs or brain. Heat stroke, however, can cause organ failure, brain damage and even death if not treated promptly.
Unlike heat exhaustion, heat stroke causes a high body temperature (above 104°F), altered mental state, rapid heartbeat and skin that is hot and dry to the touch. It is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment, such as cooling the body and administering fluids.
It is important to recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion and take steps to treat it before it progresses to heat stroke.
Certain groups of people are more susceptible to heat exhaustion than others. According to the CDC, those most at risk include older adults, young children, and people with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Additionally, athletes and outdoor workers who spend extended periods in hot and humid conditions are also at increased risk.
Elderly individuals are particularly vulnerable due to changes in their bodies’ ability to regulate temperature, making it more difficult to stay cool in hot weather. The CDC reports that individuals over 65 accounted for 39% of heat-related deaths in the United States between 2004 and 2018.
Athletes are also at increased risk due to their strenuous physical activity, which can raise their body temperature and cause them to lose fluids more quickly. According to a report by the CDC, heat illness is a leading cause of death and disability among high school athletes in the United States.
Individuals in these high-risk groups must take extra precautions during hot weather, such as staying hydrated and avoiding physical activity when the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
To avoid heat exhaustion during the hot summer months, it’s important to take preventive measures. You can do several things to protect yourself and your loved ones from the harmful effects of excessive heat. Some tips for preventing heat exhaustion include:
Don't wait until you are thirsty to drink. Drink fluids, especially water, every 30 minutes or so to help prevent dehydration. If you are engaging in physical activity for over an hour or exercising or working in the heat, a sport drink or other electrolyte-enhanced beverage may be beneficial.
When selecting clothing for hot weather, choose loose-fitting and lightweight materials that allow your body to breathe and keep you cool. Fabrics such as cotton, linen and rayon are great options because they are breathable and can absorb sweat. Avoid synthetic materials like polyester and nylon, which can trap heat and moisture against your skin, making you feel even hotter. Light-colored clothing can also help reflect the sun’s rays and keep you cooler than darker colors.
Stay out of direct sunlight during peak hours to avoid the hottest and most intense sun exposure. If you must be outside during these hours, try to stay in shaded areas or carry an umbrella or parasol to create shade. If you’re planning outdoor activities, schedule them for early morning or late afternoon when the sun is less intense.
Seeking air-conditioned spaces in summer is crucial for preventing heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Air conditioning helps to cool down the body and reduce the risk of dehydration and other complications. Spending time in air-conditioned spaces, such as homes, malls and public buildings, can help to prevent overheating and promote overall comfort and well-being during the hot summer months.
Sunburn can cause damage to your skin and make it harder for your body to cool down, so protect your skin by using sunscreen with at least SPF 30. Apply at least one ounce of sunscreen to all exposed skin and reapply it every two hours or more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating. If you have sensitive skin or are prone to acne, look for sunscreens that are oil-free and non-comedogenic.
Leaving children or pets in a parked car, even with the windows cracked open, is extremely dangerous and can lead to heat exhaustion or even death. The temperature inside a vehicle can rise rapidly, reaching over 115°F within minutes, even on a relatively mild day. This can cause heatstroke, dehydration and other heat-related illnesses, especially in vulnerable populations such as young children and pets.
Keeping a first aid kit in your car during the summer can help you prepare for any potential emergencies. A well-stocked kit should include bandages, gauze, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers and antihistamines. You can also purchase premade first aid kits with all the essentials for a convenient way to protect yourself and your family this summer.
Also, consider adding sunscreen, rehydration solutions packets, insect repellent and aloe vera gel for sunburns. A fully stocked first aid kit in your car can help ensure you’re ready for unexpected mishaps while enjoying your summer adventures.
If your job requires you to work outdoors, take frequent breaks in cool, shaded areas and wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your head and eyes from the sun’s rays. Heat exhaustion can happen quickly, especially if you work in direct sunlight for extended periods. If possible, schedule work for early morning or late afternoon when temperatures are cooler. If you start to feel dizzy, weak or nauseous, take a break in a cool, shaded area and drink plenty of water. You can also use a cooling towel or a misting fan to help keep you cool.
Summer is a fun time to be outside and enjoy the warmth of the sun. However, it’s also a time when accidents and injuries can happen. So, it’s essential to be prepared with basic first aid knowledge and supplies. Some essential first aid tips for the summer season include:
Cuts can happen anywhere, anytime, especially during outdoor activities. To treat minor cuts, wash your hands with soap and water and then use cool or lukewarm water and a mild cleanser or soap to gently remove dirt or debris from the wound. This helps prevent infection.
If the cut is bleeding, apply pressure with gauze or a clean cloth. Provide pressure for at least 1-2 minutes or until the bleeding stops. Apply petroleum jelly to help keep the wound moist and provide faster healing. Make sure you apply it continuously until the cut heals.
Alternatively, you may apply antibiotic ointment to the cut to prevent infection. Cover with a sterile bandage to help protect the wound and prevent reopening. The bandage should be changed daily and the wound should be kept covered until it heals.
Seek medical attention if the cut is longer than ¾”, greater than ¼” deep or will not stop bleeding because you may need stitches.
Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac are commonly found in summer and the oil from these plants, called urushiol, can cause an allergic rash when it comes in contact with the skin. If exposed to these plants, immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water or an outdoor skin cleanser. If not washed off, the oil can spread from person to person and other areas of the body.
Wash any objects with oil on their surface with warm, soapy water, isopropyl alcohol or an outdoor cleanser. Wash all clothing that may have come in contact with the plant. The oils can remain on clothing even after washing with regular detergent. Use a product specifically designed to remove oils, such as Tecnu, to ensure the clothing is decontaminated.
Avoid scratching as this can cause an infection and do not pop blisters. If a blister opens, keep the overlying skin intact, as this skin helps to protect the raw wound underneath and prevent infection.
To help relieve the itch, take a short, lukewarm colloidal oatmeal bath or a cool shower, apply a cold compress to the affected area, use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream and consider an antihistamine by mouth.
Seek medical attention if you have difficulty breathing or swallowing, develop a rash around one or both eyes, nose, mouth or genitals, facial swelling, especially if an eye swells shut, itching that worsens or makes it difficult to sleep, rashes on most of the body or a fever of 100°F or higher.
Sunburn can happen quickly, especially if you’re outside for extended periods without proper protection. Cool the affected skin several times daily by applying a clean towel dampened with cool water or by taking cool showers and baths. After a bath or shower, gently pat dry with a soft microfiber towel, leaving some water on the skin.
Apply a moisturizer to help trap water in the skin and help ease dryness. Choose a soy or aloe vera based moisturizer to help soothe the sunburned skin. You can also apply hydrocortisone cream or take an oral antihistamine if your skin feels itchy.
To alleviate discomfort and inflammation due to sunburn, try using cool compresses, aloe vera gel, moisturizers or over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Staying hydrated and avoiding further sun exposure is essential until the skin has healed. Severe sunburn may require medical attention, so if you experience blistering, fever, chills or dizziness, seek medical help immediately.
The first step in treating heat exhaustion is to stop all activity immediately and rest in a cool place. Find a shady area or air-conditioned building and remove unnecessary clothing, including shoes and socks. You must cool off the body as quickly as possible, so taking a cool shower or placing a cold, wet washcloth on the forehead or back of the neck can be helpful.
Drinking fluids is also critical when treating heat exhaustion. Take small sips of water, sports drinks or electrolyte-enhanced beverages for about an hour. However, you shouldn’t drink too much too quickly, as it may cause overhydration.
If symptoms persist even after taking the above measures, seeking medical attention is necessary. If the person cannot drink or keep fluids down, develops a fever of 104°F or higher, has trouble speaking, standing or walking, is sweating heavily, seems confused, agitated or loses consciousness, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
Summertime can be filled with fun outdoor activities, but prioritizing safety and preparing for emergencies is essential. Heat exhaustion, sunburn, poison ivy, cuts and insect bites are common summertime hazards, but with the right first aid gear, you can be ready to handle them.
Rite Aid offers a variety of products, such as sunscreen, insect repellent and first aid kits, to help keep you safe and healthy during the summer months. Stock up on these essentials and enjoy all the summer sun has to offer while staying safe and protected.
These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regimen.