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A warning about the heat index

Last Modified: June 28, 2021

Safety & Prevention

As the temperatures and the heat index climb, it’s important to keep an eye on your body’s response and be smart about your time in the sun. Christian Bridgwater, DO, emergency physician, medical director, Parkview Samaritan, tells us more.

What are the signs of a heat stroke?

Heat stroke is when the body’s internal temperature rises above 106 degrees Fahrenheit and is usually associated with a decline or change in mental function.  The body loses its ability to manage heat at this point and without immediate treatment and cooling protocols, the condition could result in death.

What are the signs of heat exhaustion?

Heavy sweating, fatigue, muscle cramps, excessive thirst and a rising body temperature.

What is the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

Heat exhaustion is on a continuum with heat stroke and precedes heat stroke.  If you are able to get out of the heat, hydrate and replace electrolytes, it is possible to arrest the development of heat stroke and reverse heat exhaustion.

How long is it safe to be outside if the heat index is over 100 degrees?

Every person is different, and variables such as age, underlying health conditions and level of physical fitness all play a role, so it’s hard to give a definitive time. It is more important to plan ahead, know your own limitations, stay hydrated and listen to your own body as it gives you clues such as excessive thirst, heavy sweating, fatigue and muscle cramps. 

Plan on taking a cooling break every 20-40 minutes, with time to hydrate to prevent progressing through the heat illness continuum. Hydrate before outdoor activity and plan to take plenty of fluids with you during outside activity. Plan activities for early in the day and in the shade if possible. Take frequent breaks before you experience excessive thirst, muscle cramps and fatigue that indicate that you are already stressing your body. People with cardiac disease, pulmonary disease or other health conditions need to avoid prolonged heat exposure altogether or significantly limit the exposure, as the extra stress of the heat will affect them in often unpredictable ways.

How often should you put on sunscreen?

Plan on sunscreen 30 minutes prior to activities outside.  Reapply every 2 hours - more frequently if in water or heavy sweating.

What does your body need to beat the heat?

Pre-hydration, knowing your own health conditions and limitations and planning your activities to coincide with cooler times of day will help you beat the heat. Plan on taking water and electrolyte solutions/drinks with you during the day. Am adult needs about 2 liters of water daily with no heat or activity stress, thus, depending on the type and duration of the outside activities you will need 2-3 times that amount. Plan ahead and hydrate before exposure to the heat.  

Beating the heat also means taking care of our friends, neighbors, and pets who may be vulnerable or not have the knowledge it takes to beat the heat. Check on neighbors and the elderly often. Never leave children or pets in a car in the heat. Put an essential item with your children in the vehicle so that there is never a chance to leave them in the car by accident.


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