Understanding Heat-Related Illness -- Prevention

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on January 23, 2020

How Can a Heat-Related Illness Be Prevented?

In hot weather, spend most of your time in cool, air-conditioned areas, and reduce outdoor physical activity if possible, particularly in the hottest afternoon hours. Eat small, well-balanced meals throughout the day to maintain energy, and drink plenty of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing, and protect your face and head with a wide-brimmed hat. It's also a good idea to use a sunscreen to prevent sunburn, which can hinder the skin's ability to cool itself.

During a heat wave -- or when beginning a new job or other activity that requires you to exert yourself in hot conditions -- expose yourself to the heat gradually over two or three days so that your body can get acclimated. Gradual exposure will reduce strain on the body and decrease the risk of developing a heat-related illness.

If you must be in a hot environment for an extended period of time, take steps to keep your body comfortable:

  • Open windows and use fans to promote air circulation, and retreat to cool, shaded areas frequently for breaks. Or if possible, go to an area that has air conditioning.
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Give special attention to the young and elderly during heat waves. They cannot always take care of themselves and may not realize they are becoming overheated.
  • If you are exercising outside on a hot day, make sure you take breaks to cool down and that you stay very well hydrated. Pay attention to warning signs. If you are feeling light-headed or weak, stop what you are doing and get out of the heat with a cool drink.