When temperatures begin to climb, so does the risk of suffering a heat emergency.

According to Tom Waters, M.D., an emergency department physician at Cleveland Clinic, knowing the warning signs of heat illness is key to preventing a dangerous situation.

“You might start to get a headache; you might start to feel a little nauseous; certainly if you’re feeling dizzy – those are all signs that you’re getting dehydrated, or overheated, and you may be in a set-up for a heat emergency,” he said. 

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Dr. Waters said a heat-related illness can vary from mild dehydration to heat cramps, to heat exhaustion, or all the way to full-blown heat stroke, which is a life threatening emergency.

Heat stroke can cause damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, muscles, nervous system and can lead to death.

People who know that they’re going to be out in the heat need to make sure they are hydrated both before and during the heat exposure, said Dr. Waters.

It’s also important to take plenty of breaks and make sure to bring a water bottle. He also advises folks to drink to the level of their thirst, because when we are thirsty, our body is telling us it is time to hydrate.

If someone notices that a loved one is not feeling well, especially if they are having trouble thinking, Dr. Waters said this could mean they are suffering a heat stroke, and it’s time to take action.

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“If you notice a loved one is not acting right, certainly if they’re acting confused, or they’re just not themselves, that’s a sign that they could be developing heat stroke, and you need to definitely get them removed from the heat,” he said. “If they do not recover quickly from that, and certainly if they do show an altered mental status, you need to get them to the closest emergency department right away.” 

Dr. Waters said very young children and the elderly are the most susceptible to heat stress. Infants and young children cannot adapt to the heat on their own, and the elderly sometimes have medications that make it difficult for them to regulate body temperature.

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