Rising temperatures can mean more than just discomfort: Extreme heat poses considerable health risks. From 1999 to 2010, more than 9,000 people died in the U.S. alone due to heat illnesses.
Mark Morocco, MD, a clinical professor of emergency medicine at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, warns that heat stroke and other heat-related illness should not be taken lightly.
"Extreme heat illness – heat stroke – 'cooks' your brain and organs, and can be deadly," says Dr. Morocco. "Think of heat stroke like brain stroke, a true medical emergency causing brain symptoms like confusion, fainting or difficulty with simple activities like talking or walking."
If you have such symptoms or see someone who does, immediately seek help or call 911. Don’t wait until the situation is dire, Morocco says.
"Hot, dry skin, lack of sweating, or a fever are late and dangerous signs of heat illness," he says.
Who is at most risk?
Some people are more prone to heat illness than others. Older adults (especially older than 65), children younger than 4, people with chronic heart or lung problems, and people with disabilities are at higher risk.
"Check on them early and often," Morocco says. "Help move friends, family and people at risk for heat stroke to cooler places with shade, if needed."
Hydration and shade are key
Heat exposure causes problems across a spectrum, from simple heat rash to sunburn to heat exhaustion. All of these effects, except for heat stroke with its brain-related symptoms, can be easily treated by hydrating and getting out of the heat and sun.
"Drink enough water to the point that you're urinating every two hours or so," Dr. Morocco says. "If you can't keep water down due to vomiting or discomfort, without symptom relief after one or two hours, get medical help."
For more information about your specific health risks, visit your primary care physician.