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Heat illness is due to prolonged or intense exposure to hot temperatures. Such illness would include heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stoke (also known as sun stroke).

Your body works to cool itself, and while doing that the blood rushes to the skin's surface. Because the blood is at the skin's surface, a lack of blood to the brain, muscles, and other organs can interfere with both your physical and mental strength.

By taking a few precautionary steps most heat related illnesses can be avoided, but those who work in hot and humid environments, such as manufacturing plants, bakeries, or construction sites, are most at risk. Even long, hot afternoons at the beach put some at risk if not properly managed.

This loss of essential fluid can cause major problems with circulation and interfere with brain function. Individuals who have heart trouble or are on a specific low sodium diet are particularly susceptible to heat exhaustion.

Heat illness can strike anyone, but those groups of people greater at risk are chronic alcoholics, the elderly, and obese people. Other people at more risk would be people taking certain drugs, such as antihistamines, antipsychotic medications and cocaine. High humidity also increases heat illness because it interferes with sweating.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses large amounts of water and salt through excessive sweating. Heat cramps can also strike when the body loses an excessive amount of fluids and salt. Along with the loss of other nutrients such as potassium and magnesium through sweat, it is potentially dangerous. Heat stroke occurs when the body suffers from long, intense exposure to heat and loses its ability to cool itself.

In a long period of time, exposed to heat, your brain malfunctions and does not cool your body down. This then decreases the body's ability to sweat and therefore cool down to normal temperature. People that have such illnesses as scleroderma or cystic fibrosis have a decreased ability to sweat, therefore these people are at a much higher risk for heat stroke.

The treatment for these illnesses can be simple, but must be done rapidly. If not done rapidly, they are much more serious. The primary treatment for heat exhaustion is a replacement of lost fluids and salts that were lost through sweating. Victims should move to a cool place, lie flat or with feet slightly raised above head level, and sip a cool and slightly salty drink. Such drinks would be a salty sports drink, salted tomato juice, cool bouillon, or just plan tap water with an added teaspoon of table salt. In most cases that is all that is needed for a full recovery. In more severe cases, IV fluids need to be given, which then would take hospital care.

The treatment for heat cramps can usually be found by just escaping the heat. Other helpful things that can be done would be again drinking a cool, salty beverage and or eating salty foods. Gentle massage or firm pressure applied to the area causing discomfort may alleviate some of the spasms.

Heat stroke is the most dangerous heat illness that can occur. It can do permanent brain damage or even death if not treated properly and promptly. Anyone that has a heat stoke must seek emergency medical attention. While help is on the way, you should move the victim to the shade, followed by wrapping their body in cool, wet bed sheets or clothing. Another solution is to remove the victims clothing and sponge cool water all over until help arrives. Ice packs can be placed on the groin, neck, or underarms and the victim can be fanned either by an electric fan or simply with hands. It is important not to give a heat stroke victim any fluids. If at all possible a thermometer should be used to monitor any variations in temperature and should stop cooling treatments once temperature returns to normal. Once at the hospital, the victim is given intravenous drugs to control convulsions and will likely be given bed rest for the next several days.

In order to prevent heat illness, spend most of your time in cool, air-conditioned areas. And outdoor activity should be monitored and limited, especially on really hot days. You should eat small, well-balanced meals throughout the day to maintain your energy, and drink plenty of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages. Wearing lose fitting, light colored, lightweight clothing and a big hat to cover face and neck will help keep you cool. Using a sunscreen to prevent sunburn is a good idea and has many benefits. If forced to work in a hot environment, open windows and use fans to promote air circulation. Sit in shaded areas frequently for breaks and drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Prevention is the key. Play smart and stay safe!