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During a heatwave, your body's temperature control system can be overwhelmed. Suddenly, your core body temperature begins climbing higher and higher. When it hits 104, your central nervous system can’t function properly, and you are likely to be experiencing the symptoms of heat exhaustion. If you don’t intervene, heat exhaustion can quickly progress to heat stroke which can damage the brain and other vital organs, resulting in permanent disability or even death.

Babies, kids and older people are especially at risk of suffering from heat-related illnesses such as heat cramp, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Here are the symptoms to watch for:

Heat Cramp

Typically caused by exercising or working outside when it’s really hot.

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Painful muscle cramps

Heat Exhaustion

  • Profuse sweating
  • Thirst
  • Confusion/difficulty speaking
  • Agitation
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Painful muscle cramps

Heat Stroke

  • Body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher
  • Skin is typically hot, flushed and dry
  • Confusion//agitation
  • Slurred speech
  • Labored or rapid breathing
  • Racing heart
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle pain
  • Stomach cramps//vomiting
  • Throbbing headache 

Have Respiratory Issues? Pay close attention to the following:

  • Difficulty taking a breath
  • Breathing faster/more frequently than usual
  • Feel that your heart is racing, or that your heart rate has speeded up
  • Are you dizzy or light-headed 

Heat-related illnesses medical emergencies. If you suspect that you or someone else is dealing with a heat-related illness, you should call 911 and work to lower the core body temperature.

The following may help to lower body temperature to below 102:

  • Take a cool (not cold) bath
  • Cover yourself with cool sheets (soaked in water
  • Have a cool drink
  • Spray yourself with water
  • Sit in front of a fan

Preventing Heat Related Illness

It's important -- especially during heat waves -- to pay attention to the reported heat index rather than just the temperature. The heat index (sometimes referred to as “feels like” in weather reporting) measures the effects of the combined relative humidity and air temperature are combined.

A relative humidity of 60% or more hampers sweat evaporation, which hinders your body's ability to cool itself. And the risk of heat-related illness dramatically increases when the heat index climbs to 90 degrees or more.

When temps are high – especially for extended periods during a heatwave – the best way to stay healthy and safe is to spend as much time as possible in an air-conditioned place.

But not everyone has access to an air conditioner at home or can afford to run it consistently. If so, look for local cooling centers near you by searching the internet or consider going to a mall, public library, movie theater, senior center or recreation center.

You should also wear loose fitting, lightweight clothing, drink plenty of fluids and take it easy (if possible) during the hottest parts of the day.

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