Back to articles

A Guide To Preventing Heat Exhaustion & Heatstroke

General, Health Alert

Just as water courses through the Central Valley to irrigate its farmland, the body needs adequate hydration to nourish its tissues. In both cases, problems can arise with a lack of water. 

“During intense summer heat, especially in dry climates such as the Central Valley, our skin is more prone to evaporative cooling,” says Vijay Krishna, MD, a family medicine physician at Adventist Health. “This means that we tend to lose water more easily compared to environments that are higher in humidity.” 

When we do not stay cool or drink enough water, our bodies can experience heat exhaustion, heatstroke or both, Dr. Krishna explains. 

Heat exhaustion 

  • Warning signs: Nausea, lightheadedness, heavy sweating, dizziness, fatigue and muscle cramps.
  • What to do: It is important to get your body to a reasonable temperature, Dr. Krishna says. “Move to a cooler, shaded area or an air-conditioned space as soon as possible,” he advises. He also recommends taking a cold shower or using ice packs, drinking plenty of water and electrolyte drinks, and removing tight or excess layers of clothing. 

Heatstroke 

  • Warning signs: Headache, confusion, lack of sweat, rapid heart rate, nausea and/or vomiting, and loss of consciousness.
  • What to do: “These warning signs are similar to what our phone does when it overheats and shuts down,” Dr. Krishna explains. “Heatstroke can be fatal if untreated, so it requires immediate medical attention.” Call 911 right away, move to a cooler place and use cold compresses to reduce body temperature. Dr. Krishna advises not to give fluids to someone suffering from heatstroke — the paramedics and emergency room providers will manage rehydration with IV fluids. 

Safer summers 

When the heat is raging, watch these health risks for children. 

During summer break, children naturally want to spend their days playing outside with friends or splashing around in water. The Central Valley sees some of its hottest temperatures in the late summer months, and with the heat — and all that time spent outdoors — comes a greater possibility of heat-related injury and illness. Follow these tips to keep your kids safe. 

Water hazards 

Whether you are visiting a lake, vacationing by the beach or splashing in the pool, water play can be a great way to keep kids cool. But be sure to keep an eye on your children, without distractions, when they’re around water. Even a small children’s pool or a bucket of water poses a drowning risk.  

Adventist Health providers recommend knowing this CPR technique for children: Using the heel of your hand for children or two thumbs for babies, give 30 chest compressions at 100 to 120 beats per minute (try following the tempo of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees), followed by two breaths lasting 1 second each into the child’s airway. Repeat this pattern until emergency help arrives. 

High temperatures 

Summer in the Central Valley can bring triple-digit temperatures. Our bodies regulate temperature through sweat — when it evaporates, it cools the body. But children sweat less than adults, so when children run and play outside in the heat, their bodies can struggle to lower the internal temperature effectively. This makes children more susceptible to heat illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.  

Children experiencing a heat illness might feel faint or dizzy, have a rapid pulse, and experience a headache, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting. 

Parents can help children avoid heat illnesses by ensuring that they are well hydrated with water or electrolyte drinks, dressing them in loose, lightweight clothing, and encouraging them to play during the morning or evening when it’s cooler. 

Extreme sun 

Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage the skin and eyes, and cause skin cancer. Sunscreen protects against those harmful rays.  

“You should wear the highest SPF sunscreen possible every day you are outside, regardless of the time of day,” says Nathaniel Wilkin, MD, a dermatologist at Adventist Health in the Central Valley. “Also, reapply every two hours, and consult your dermatologist if you have any concerns.”