In the summer months, the weather can range from moderate and balmy to downright unbearable or life-threatening. 

Although the effects of the hot sun can be severe, these effects will be mitigated if appropriate measures are taken.


Before we get into those measures, it is important to note what is at stake. 

If left untreated, heat-related illness can cause permanent damage or death. 

Prolonged exposure to heat can bring on heat exhaustion, and heat exhaustion will lead to heat stroke if it is not properly dealt with. 

Extreme heat can also worsen existing health issues, like diabetes or asthma.

Generally, as people get older their risk of heat-related illness will increase.


Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Profuse sweating


Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Body temperature over 100 degrees F
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Red skin
  • Seizure

If you or someone you know begins experiencing these symptoms, seek emergency medical attention.

The following steps will help prevent these heat-related illnesses before they even happen.


In an attempt to cool itself, your body releases fluids by sweating. 

During periods of extreme heat, your body produces much more sweat. 

This will lead to dehydration if you do not hydrate properly. 

Drink plenty of cool hydrating fluids that are low in sugars. 

Bottle of water pouring into a a glass

Naturally, water does the best job of keeping you hydrated and lowering your internal body temperature. 

Keep in mind that your body also loses salts from sweating. 

These can be replenished by drinking a sports drink. 

Do NOT consume alcohol or caffeine on days with very high temperatures. 

Alcohol and caffeine accelerate the process of fluids leaving the body and make you even more dehydrated. 

Staying well hydrated will also help prevent cramping brought on by extreme heat. 

Do not wait until you’re thirsty to drink water. 

It is better to drink too much water instead of not enough.

Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is the best way to create an environment safe from extreme heat. 

Make sure the air conditioning is set to a temperature lower than 80 degrees F. 

If your home does not have air conditioning, consider investing in a window air conditioning unit. 

In case your power goes out or your air conditioning quits working, go to a public place like a library or theater during the hottest hours of the day (between 12-4 pm).

Wear Cool Clothing

This does not mean clothes that look cool, like cargo shorts and Hawaiian shirts. 

Instead, it means clothes that physically keep you cool. 

Anything that is lightweight, lightly colored, and loose-fitting should do the trick. 

The light colors will reflect the sun’s rays and the loose fit will give your body room to breathe. 

Wear long sleeves and a hat for added protection from the sun’s rays. 

A wide-brimmed hat like the one shown above will keep the sun’s rays away from your face and neck.

Stay Indoors During the Hottest Hours

As previously mentioned, the hottest hours of the day are between 12:00-4:00 pm. 

If at all possible, avoid going outside during that time on days with extreme heat. 

The air conditioning combined with the shady environment of your home will drastically reduce the risk of heat-related illness.  

If you do go outside, make sure you are not outside for long and your destination is air conditioned.

Take a Cool Shower

If you feel yourself beginning to overheat, take a cool bath or shower. 

The cold water washing over your skin will help to decrease your body temperature. 

On top of that, a cool shower on a hot summer’s day feels incredibly refreshing. 

Cold water will also reduce the effects of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.    


4 bottles of sunscreen sitting on a table

It is important to use sunscreen as a preventative measure to keep the sun’s rays from hitting your skin directly. 

When the sun hits exposed skin, the skin heats up much more quickly than it would with sunscreen. 

Also, skin will generally burn much more quickly in times of extreme heat. 

Obviously, sunscreen is the best way to protect yourself from the sun and prevent that from happening.    

Pay Attention to Temperatures

Planning ahead is key when trying to beat the summer heat. 

Pay close attention to forecasted temperatures and actual temperatures before doing anything outside. 

Be mindful of humidity levels as well, as humidity can contribute to overheating.

Put Outdoor Activities on Hold

A fitness center with workout machines

If the temperature outside is extreme, postpone any outdoor plans. 

Outdoor fun is not worth the risk of developing a heat-related illness. 

Your best course of action will be to wait until later in the day or wait until another day entirely. 

Make sure to have an indoor backup plan if you know there is a chance of extreme temperatures. 

For example, if you have plans to go on an outdoor run and the temperature outside is extremely hot, go to the gym instead.

Take Breaks

Man taking a nap in a grassy field

When you have no choice but to go outside, take it easy. 

Do not do anything too demanding and stick to the shade.

The guy pictured above almost has it down, but not quite. 

Take frequent breaks from whatever activity you are performing to make sure your body temperature stays under control. 

This will also help to prevent cramping brought on by fatigue and dehydration. 

Ideally, you should take breaks inside with air conditioning. 

Keep in mind that it may take a while for your body temperature to return to normal.

NO Hot Cars

You have probably heard 1,000 public service announcements about this by now, but it is worth repeating. 

Basically, do not leave children, pets, or anyone else unattended in a car on a hot day. 

The temperature inside the car will get extremely hot rapidly and will likely cause heat-related illness. 

Even on days that are not overwhelmingly hot, the interior of a vehicle can reach dangerous temperatures.


The summer heat is a formidable opponent, but it can be beaten. 

All you have to do is follow the steps listed above. 

With a little planning and consideration, you can tackle even the hottest summer days.    

Andrew Gibbs, PharmD

Andrew Gibbs, PharmD

Andrew graduated from the University of Illinois Chicago College of Pharmacy at Rockford in 2015.

He currently lives in Stockton, IL.  In his free time, he enjoys exercising, spending time outdoors, reading, and cooking.