Summers in the Southeast can bring sweltering heat and oppressive humidity. Having fun in the sun is the best part of the season, but it’s also important to be able to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and to know when to seek medical attention.

Children, teens, and the elderly are most susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Teens and children produce more heat and sweat less, making them the highest risk group, according to Johns Hopkins Medical Center. When engaging in robust physical activity outside, remember to take breaks and hydrate regularly.

There are three primary heat-related illnesses to look out for:

  • Heat cramps
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heat stroke

“All heat-related illnesses should be taken seriously, but range from muscle cramping all the way to heat stroke where your brain and organs start to shut down.   All activity related heat illnesses are due to some combination of dehydration, long exposure to high temperatures and humidity, and physical activity of some sort,” says Greg Symenow, a provider at BetterMed.



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Heat cramps are caused primarily by vigorous exercise in hot weather. Excessive sweating and straining will lead to the body becoming dehydrated and muscles cramping up. While heat cramps are the mildest form of heat illness, they still cause painful muscle spasms.


  • Move to a cool place and rest.
  • Stretch cramping muscles slowly.
  • Drink a sports drink that contains sugars and salts.


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Heat exhaustion results from a loss of salts and water in the body. It occurs in high heat and conditions where you’re sweating excessively. Heat exhaustion is dangerous when left unchecked and will progress into heat stroke.

Symptoms include feeling faint, anxiety, muscle cramps, pale or moist skin, nausea, vomiting, and headaches.


  • Move to a cool place and rest.
  • Remove any excess clothing.
  • Drink a sports drink that contains sugar and salts.
  • If unable to drink, IV fluids may be needed.


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In short, heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. When heat stroke occurs, the body is unable to cool itself. If you suspect someone has heat stroke, call 911 immediately.

Symptoms include warm, dry skin; nausea; high heart rate; vomiting; confusion; and in extreme cases, seizures or coma that can lead to death.


  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Move to a cool place and rest.
  • Remove excess clothing; drench the skin with water and fan.
  • Place ice bags in armpits and groin.


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All heat-related illnesses are preventable. Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce your chance of being affected.

“As the hotter months approach, make sure you are drinking plenty of water, limiting the amount of time you spend in the heat and monitoring your physical activity.  If you ever feel that you are having symptoms related to heat illnesses, it is always a good idea to seek medical attention,” explains Symenow.