Dog panting in summer heat
The Dog Days of Summer! I used to think that Dog Days of Summer meant that time of year that the days are so hot, dogs just listlessly lie around, panting in the heat. But in fact, this quaint term has more to do with ‘The Dog Star – Sirius’ and it’s position in the heavens during July and August – hence The Dog Days1) Still, the term does bring to mind sweltering hot, lazy days and for those of us living in New England – famous for its hot & muggy summers – we need to be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Both heat-related conditions can happen to anyone. Young, old, it makes no difference.
Heat exhaustion is what happens when your body overheats. If you don’t recognized the symptoms of heat exhaustion and get treatment fast, it can lead to heatstroke. This dangerous condition occurs when your body temperature reaches 104°F or higher. Heatstroke is a potentially life-threatening medical emergency . Victims of heatstroke can go into shock, experience rapid organ failure, brain damage, and as mentioned, can lead to death.

Symptoms of Heat-Related Illnesses

What to look for

What to do


  • High body temperature (103°F or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Nausea
  • Feeling confused
  • Losing consciousness (passing out)
  • Call 911 right away- heat stroke is a medical emergency
  • Move the person to a cooler place
  • Help lower the person’s temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath
  • Do not give the person anything to drink

Heat Exhaustion

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Headache
  • Fainting (passing out)
  • Move to a cool place
  • Loosen your clothes
  • Put cool, wet cloths on your body or take a cool bath
  • Sip water


Get medical help right away if:

  • You are throwing up
  • Your symptoms get worse
  • Your symptoms last longer than 1 hour

Heat Cramps

  • Heavy sweating during intense exercise
  • Muscle pain or spasms
  • Stop physical activity and move to a cool place
  • Drink water or a sports drink
  • Wait for cramps to go away before you do any more physical activity


Get medical help right away if:

  • Cramps last longer than 1 hour
  • You’re on a low-sodium diet
  • You have heart problems


  • Painful, red, and warm skin
  • Blisters on the skin
  • Stay out of the sun until your sunburn heals
  • Put cool cloths on sunburned areas or take a cool bath
  • Put moisturizing lotion on sunburned areas
  • Do not break blisters

Body aches

Sometimes (usually mild) Common (can be severe)

Heat Rash

Red clusters of small blisters that look like pimples on the skin (usually on the neck, chest, groin, or in elbow creases)
  • Stay in a cool, dry place
  • Keep the rash dry
  • Use powder (like baby powder) to soothe the rash


 Causes of Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke

Simply put, your body is overheating faster than it can cool itself. Sweating is a means of evaporating water on the surface of the skin to cool the body, and is the body’s first line of defense against overheating.  In hot, humid weather, sweating is not as efficient in cooling the body due to the high level of moisture in the air.  As your ability to cool down through sweating becomes less efficient, your body temperature rises and you may experience the symptoms of heat exhaustion coming on.

Just being outside in the sun on hot days can put you at risk, depending on your health, and physical exertion (sports, exercise) can quickly lead to overheating, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. You’ve probably heard of The Heat Index.3)

Heat Index Chart

During the summer months, your local weather forecast on TV is always mentioning Heat Index. What is it? Heat Index is temperature  based on a formula which calculates the actual temperate, factoring in humidity. It’s NOT the the same as the actual measured temperature. Heat Index is a measurement of discomfort felt as a result of combining both of the above factors. Example: The outside temperature is 90°F degrees with relative humidity of 65%. This is not unheard of in New England! The Heat Index based on the above would, according to the National Weather Service, be: 103°F . In other words, it would feel like 103 degrees!4)

When to seek medical attention?

If a person is displaying the typical heat-related symptoms, try to take their temperature immediately.

Any temperature of 104°F or higher indicates heatstroke. Call 911.

Heatstroke is very severe medical emergency. Seek medical help or take the victim to the nearest Hospital Emergency Room without delay!

How can heat exhaustion and heatstroke be prevented or avoided?

There are many things you can do to prevent heat-related illnesses. The most basic is awareness of the problem. Keep in mind that infants, children, and the elderly are more vulnerable to overheating. Those who are ill, obese, or those with heart disease are also at greater risk than the general population for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Obviously, people working outside or without air conditioning also are at elevated risk.

If possible, when the heat index is very high, just don’t go outside. It’s much safer to stay in air-conditioned places. If you have to work or go outside, here are some tips to do so safely:

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Avoid synthetic fibers. Cotton and other summer-weight fabrics are best.
  • Wear a hat!
  • Use a sunscreen (SPF) of 15 or higher.
  • Drink enough water throughout the day. Drink more than you normally do, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Dehydration and lack of salt and/or electrolytes can impair your body from efficiently cooling.  Sports drinks which are high in electrolytes can help replenish the salts in your body that you lose through sweat.  Dark-colored urine is a warning sign that you’re already dehydrated.
  • Avoid caffeine. It’s a diuretic, which causes your body to excrete water and can lead to rapid dehydration in hot weather. Avoid alcohol as well.
  • Plan your schedule around the weather. Avoid the hottest hours of the day.

Don’t stay in a car or leave kids or pets in a car without air condition on a hot day.

If you’re taking prescription medicine, be aware that certain drugs can interfere with your body’s ability to regulate heat and can put you at higher risk of heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking:

  • Antibiotics
  • Allergy medicines (antihistamines)
  • Some medicines used to manage blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease (beta-blockers and vasoconstrictors)
  • Some medicines that treat mental health problems (antidepressants and antipsychotics)
  • Seizure medicines (anticonvulsants)
  • Water pills (diuretics)
  • Laxatives
  • Some diet pills
  • Prescription acne medicines
  • Illegal drugs, such as cocaine (amphetamines)

Treatment: Act Fast!

Get out of the heat. Get out of the sun! Go to cool place, or at a minimum, seek shade.

  • Lie down. Raise/Elevate your legs to improve blood circulation.
  • Take off unnecessary clothing. Loosen your clothing.
  • Cool your skin. Place cool towels or washcloths on your face and forehead.  If possible take a cool shower or bath. The purpose is to get your body temperature down fast.
  • Drink cool fluids, such as water or a sports drink. Sip, don’t drink too fast.

Heatstroke: Call 911 if:

  • Symptoms don’t improve or the person still has a fever of 102°F after 30 minutes of initial treatment.
  • The person goes into shock, faints, or has seizures.
  • The person stops breathing. Begin CPR.


When recovering from heat exhaustion or heatstroke, it’s important to avoid overheating again. Stay out of the sun and hot weather. You’ll probably experience an increased sensitivity to heat which may last for days or more than a week. Rest is very important. Consult with your doctor about your progress and when you should return to a normal routine.

Infographic titled Beat The Heat Extreme Heat Heat-related deaths are preventable

Feature Photo Credit: Kate Brady ,

Sources and References

Sources and References
1 (2017, July 4). Dog Days Retrieved July 31, 2017, from
2 (2017, June 19). Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness. Retrieved July 31, 2017, from
3 (2016, July 8) What is the Heat Index and Why Is It Used Retrieved July 31, 2017 from
4 ”What is the Heat Index and Why Is It Used? | The Weather Channel.” Accessed July 31, 2017.
5 (2017, July 20) Infographic: Beat The Heat

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