Extreme heat is a serious health threat. Here’s what you need to know.

Photo credit: pockafwye/Flickr

The health risks of heat are no joke. From 1999 to 2010, more than 9,000 people died in the U.S. alone due to heat illnesses.

Dr. Mark Morocco, 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. Rather, extreme heat can have very dangerous – and sometimes fatal – effects on the body.

Dr. Mark Morocco, a clinical professor of emergency medicine at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. (Photo credit: UCLA Health)

"Extreme heat illness – heat stroke – 'cooks' your brain and organs, and can be deadly," he says. "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.

Some people are more prone to heat illness than others. Older adults (especially over age 65), children under age 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."

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," he says. "If you can't keep water down due to vomiting or discomfort, without symptom relief after one or two hours, get medical help."

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