Heat-related illnesses: prevention and treatment
It’s harder for our bodies to maintain a healthy internal temperature when it’s hot and humid. Our bodies usually cool down by sweating, but sweating is less effective when it’s humid.
Some people, like infants and young children, seniors, and people with chronic medical conditions, have a higher risk for developing heat-related illnesses.
Preventing heat-related illnesses
- drinking plenty of water
- staying in shaded or cool areas
- taking frequent breaks if you have to work outside
- wearing lightweight, light-coloured clothing
- avoiding leaving children, infants or pets unattended in vehicles
- checking on older neighbours and others vulnerable to heat-related illness, and offer air-conditioned shelter and water if needed
See these brochures on heat for specific at-risk groups:
Symptoms and treatment of heat-related illnesses
If recognized early and treated properly, a mild illness can be cured and prevented from progressing to something more severe. However, people might not always show symptoms before they develop a more serious illness.
There are 4 kinds of heat-related illness, listed from mildest to most severe:
Heat cramps cause spasms of the leg and abdominal muscles. If someone experiences these cramps, they need to drink water, rest in a cool area, and gently stretch and massage the affected muscles.
If someone faints or almost faints, move them to a cool, shady area immediately and give them water to cool down their body temperature.
The symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- fatigue, weakness or reduced energy
- rapid pulse
- heavy sweating
Anyone who experiences these symptoms needs immediate medical attention. Move them to a shady area and give them water. Remove any excess clothing and place ice packs or cold wet towels in the neck, armpit and groin areas.
Heat stroke is an emergency and the person must be taken to the nearest hospital.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- loss of consciousness
Before they get to the hospital, you can help the person by putting them in a pool with cold or ice water and applying ice packs to the neck, armpit, and groin area.
For more information on heat and humidity, and tips on preventing heat-related illnesses, visit Health Canada
Nova Scotia’s Heat Alert and Response System
Heat alerts will be issued through the Heat Alert and Response System to inform Nova Scotians and community response partners when a heat event is coming. The new system is a partnership between Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada, and the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness
Heat warnings will be issued to inform the public when air temperature and humidex are above defined criteria so that they can take action to protect themselves from the risks associated with extreme heat.
When a heat alert is in place, advisories will be shared through Department of Health and Wellness Twitter and Facebook page. You can also visit Environment and Climate Change Canada website for more weather information.
If your organization provides services for those who are more vulnerable to heat, you may subscribe to Environment Canada’s email alert system.