Have fun in the sun, not heat-related illness

By Julie Jordan
Published July 17, 2019

A heat wave is defined as three or more days of temperatures at 90 degrees or higher. This summer Georgia has seen temperatures meeting these criteria. Under such conditions it is more difficult for your body to cool down, and you are more susceptible to heat-related illness. More than 600 people in the U.S. die from extreme heat each year.      

How do you prepare for such hot events? How do you stay healthy and keep from overheating? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you stay cool, stay hydrated and stay informed.

Heat-related illness includes heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn and heat rash. In extreme heat, your body may have difficulty cooling itself through sweat. Then your body temperature rises faster than it can cool down. Eventually this can even cause damage the brain and other vital organs.

These factors will increase your risk for heat-related illness:

  • High levels of humidity
  • Obesity
  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Prescription drug use
  • Heart disease
  • Mental illness
  • Poor circulation
  • Sunburn
  • Alcohol use 

To avoid heat-related illness, practice the following tips.


Stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible, but just a few hours a day will reduce your risk for heat-related illness. Activity outdoors should be balanced with cooler activities. Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing to reduce heat as much as possible.

When temperatures are in the high 90s, remember that electric fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Take a cool shower or bath or move to an air-conditioned space to cool off. Avoid using heat-generating appliances like your stove and oven.  

Schedule outdoor activities for the morning and evening, and take frequent breaks in the shade to cool down.

Limit exercise in the heat if you’re not used to the heat. If your heart is pounding and you are gasping for breath, stop your activity. Rest in a cool, shaded area.

Prevent sunburns by wearing sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher. A sunburn will dehydrate you and limit your ability to cool down. Put sunscreen on 30 minutes before heading into the sun. Reapply as directed on the bottle. Look for sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection,” as they work best.

Avoid hot and heavy meals which will only add heat to your body.  


Drink plenty of water even before you are thirsty. Don’t wait until you are already thirsty.

Avoid sugary or alcoholic beverages which can cause you to lose even more body fluid. Beware that very cold drinks can cause stomach cramps.

As you lose salt and minerals from your body while sweating, replace them. A sports drink will help with this.

Provide plenty of water for your pets in a shady area.  


Prepare for extreme heat ahead of time by keeping an eye on local news weather forecasts.  

Use the buddy system to check on each other at least twice a day while working in extreme heat. Heat-related illness can cause confusion or loss of consciousness.

Keep a close eye on those at greater risk for heat-related illness:  

  • Infants and young children
  • People 65 years of age or older
  • People who are overweight
  • People who overexert during work or exercise
  • People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation