The phrase, “Be careful, it's hot!” applies more than what is on the stove. Heat related illness (HRI) is a common, serious and sometimes fatal condition.

The phrase, “Be careful, it’s hot!” applies more than what is on the stove. Heat related illness (HRI) is a common, serious and sometimes fatal condition. Alcohol and certain prescription drugs increase susceptibility to heat illness, as does obesity. Being acclimated to the heat and being in good physical condition are protective factors. Exertion and heavy clothing or protective gear are major factors in many cases of HRI, but probably nothing is more important than water. The more water present in the air as humidity, the more likely is heat illness. The less water a person drinks, during heat exposure, the more likely they are to suffer HRI. Often a quart or more per hour is necessary to remain properly hydrated. The best guide to whether one is drinking enough water is to weigh before and after periods of heat exposure. If you weigh less after than you did before, the difference is due to un-replaced water loss. Most authorities recognize three types of HRI, and heat stroke is the most serious. The two less serious conditions are heat cramps and heat exhaustion. Heat stroke is among the leading causes of death in young athletes, and football participants are the segment of the population with the highest incidence of heat stroke, about 4.5 cases per 100,000 participants per year. Since 1995, 31 players have died of heat stroke. There is an excellent short course on HRI at, which I found easily with a Google search using, “CDC HRI.” It is aimed at teachers, coaches, parents or caregivers, and has a number of handouts that are tailored to each group. The information below is taken from that site, and it uses the term “athlete” but the information applies equally to anyone with significant heat exposure, especially in association with exertion:

Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms, usually in the legs, abdomen, or arms, and might occur in association with strenuous activity.

Treatment: Have athlete rest in a cool, shady, or air-conditioned place, and drink water, clear juice, or a sports beverage. Do not allow athlete to return to strenuous activity for a few hours after cramps subside. Seek medical attention if cramps do not subside in one hour.

Heat exhaustion is a form of heat-related illness that can develop after exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced fluid replacement.

Symptoms: Heavy sweating; headache; nausea and/or vomiting; muscle cramps; dizziness, fainting, weakness or tiredness; pale, cool, moist skin; Fast, weak pulse; breathing fast and shallow.

Treatment: Remove restrictive clothing, equipment, and helmet; rest in a cool, shady area or seek an air-conditioned place; drink water, clear juice, or a sports beverage; take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.

Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature, because the sweating mechanism fails (completely or partially), and the body is unable to cool down, resulting in a rise in body temperature. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided. Seek medical attention immediately.

Symptoms: High body temperature; rapid pulse; skin is hot and often red, but may be moist or dry; throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, unconsciousness.

Treatment: Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the victim. Response time is critical. Remove restrictive clothing, equipment, and helmet. Cool the person rapidly: place the person in a cool shower or spray them with cool water from a water hose; sponge the person with cool water. You may use ice bags at neck, armpit, and groin area, or – if the humidity is low – wrap the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously. Monitor body temperature* and continue cooling efforts until body temperature drops to 101-102°F. Do not continue cooling efforts once core body temperature is less than 102. If the person is alert, give him or her sips of cool water, regardless of temperature. Do not give the person alcohol to drink. Do get them to a medical professional as soon as possible.

*Rectal temperature is the most accurate measure of core body temperature available in the field.

This article is intended to provide general information only, and is not to be taken as medical advice. For advice about a particular case or situation, consult your own physician or other trusted health professional.

This column is a service of The Health and Wellness Coalition of Runnels County which now meets every second Thursday at 7 pm. The next meeting will be in the conference room at Keel Drug on June 14. In addition, everyone is invited to join us each Thursday (beginning June 7) for a healthcare provider led walk, from 6 to 6:30 in the Ballinger City Park. We will meet at the Pavilion. (Bring water. Stay hydrated.)