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Article Summary: How to Stay Safe in Extreme Heat by Allyson Chiu


With hot temperatures setting records worldwide, Allyson Chu of The Washington Post steps up to tell you how to stay safe. First, learn the signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you get dehydrated, you may experience muscle cramps or spasms. Drink water or electrolyte beverages and keep salty snacks on hand. If you don’t treat overheating, you could experience heat exhaustion, where you sweat profusely and feel dizzy, queasy and fatigued. Get to a cooler environment and soak yourself with water. If you stop sweating, become confused or have seizures, immerse in water and call emergency services. As Chu reports, you can live with the heat, but you have to take it seriously.


  • Extreme temperature is the new weather risk, so learn the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
  • Learn how to treat and avoid heat-related illnesses.
  • If you have symptoms of a heat-related condition, get into a cooler environment immediately.


Extreme temperature is the new weather risk, so learn the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

With extreme temperatures worldwide and more “dangerous” heat to come, it’s important to learn how to take care of yourself and others in hot temperatures. The trend toward hotter weather means everyone needs to reconsider the risk of being outdoors in high temperatures. Learning the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion can help keep you safe.

The definition of “extreme heat” is relative to where you live and whether you’re acclimated to very warm weather. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines it as “summertime temperatures that are much hotter and/or humid than average.”

“Everyone is vulnerable, and these exposures can creep up and unexpectedly affect you.”

Heat can cause your body to dehydrate resulting in muscle pain or spasms known as heat cramps. Heat exhaustion can follow if you don’t intervene. Symptoms of severe dehydration include dry skin, fast heartbeat, quick breathing, feeling dizzy or confused, and passing out. If you develop heat exhaustion, you additionally may sweat heavily, your heart rate can rise even higher, you may have a headache, and you could feel queasy, tired and dizzy. This situation can get “dangerous fast.” Signs of a potentially fatal heat stroke are a lack of sweat, confusion and, possibly, seizures. At this point, the central nervous system has stopped working properly. If you or someone else is experiencing these symptoms, experts say, immediately seek help.

In extreme heat, your internal temperature can rise, sometimes dangerously. Emergency physician Dr. Grant Lipman warns, “Imagine frying an egg. That’s what’s happening in your body at these 106, 107 core temperatures. You have all these proteins and enzymes in your body that are basically being fried, and you’re losing cells, and you’re having this multi-organ dysfunction.”

Learn how to treat and avoid heat-related illnesses.

To avoid heat-related conditions, try to stay indoors. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, go to an air-conditioned place, such as a community space, library or mall. If all you have is a fan, sit in front of it and mist yourself with cold water, though that is not as good for you as air conditioning.

If you must work outdoors, wear a hat and light, loose, pale-colored clothing. Use sunscreen and sunglasses. Take frequent breaks and cool yourself by “soaking your head” and clothes with water. Drink whenever you feel thirsty, but if you drink a lot of liquid, keep salty snacks on hand to maintain your sodium levels. Don’t drink excess alcohol or caffeine since they are dehydrating. If your urine is clear, you are sufficiently hydrated; if it is dark, you are not.

“Health risks associated with heat exposure exist on a spectrum ranging from milder conditions… to heat strokes, which can be fatal.”

Older people, children and pregnant women are among those who are more physically affected by heat, but extreme heat can have a psychological impact on anyone. Dehydration can increase anxiety, depression and panic. Check on vulnerable people you know and reach out to strangers if you see them experiencing symptoms. Be alert to children, who are vulnerable, and never leave a child alone in the car. Pets are also at risk, so give them a cool place to rest and plenty of water and be aware that hot pavement can burn their paws.

If you have symptoms of a heat-related condition, get into a cooler environment immediately.

If you have any signs of heat-related illness, act quickly to reduce your body’s core temperature by immersing in cold water or “wetting your clothes, skin and hair.” Drink cold water or electrolyte drinks.

“As we move forward into essentially a hotter planet, we need to really rethink heat as a risk.” (George Washington University environmental and occupational health professor Sabrina McCormick)

Do not resume normal activities until your symptoms are gone, which could take from an hour to more than six hours. Illnesses related to extreme heat are preventable, but staying safe requires forethought and care. If you or someone else experiences severe heat-related problems, including heat stroke, seek medical help immediately.

About the Author

Allyson Chiu reports on climate issues for The Washington Post.

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