Warning: Too much time in the heat can make you sick (pets, too)


My husband stacking wood

So … what did my husband and I do in the heat this weekend? We stacked wood! That’s right. Instead of taking it easy in my hammock, I helped him stack wood. At high noon. When the thermometer was hovering in the mid-80s. But I made him set the timer for 30 minutes and when it went off, we were done. Literally!

I’m joking about working in the hot sun, but it’s something you have to take seriously. The Maine CDC even issued this warning.

“Older adults, infants, pregnant women, people who have chronic diseases and those who work outside or in hot environments are most at risk for heat-related illnesses.” ~Maine CDC

Here in New England, we’re usually more concerned about frostbite than heat stroke. It doesn’t mean we don’t know how to deal with hot weather, but it won’t hurt to get some reminders about recognizing and preventing heat-related illnesses.

Here’s a rundown of heat-related illnesses, their symptoms and what to do. Again, courtesy of the Maine CDC.

Heat stroke

  • hot, dry, red skin (no sweating)
  • rapid pulse
  • high body temperature (≥ 105 F)
  • headache
  • loss of alertness
  • confusion
  • rapid and shallow breathing
  • unconsciousness or coma

What to do: Call 911 immediately. Cool the person rapidly by moving them out of the sun and into a shady or cooler area; applying cool water or ice to the head, neck, armpits and groin area; fanning; and loosening their clothing

Heat exhaustion

  • heavy sweating
  • fainting
  • vomiting
  • cold, pale and clammy skin
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • nausea
  • weakness

What to do: Move the person to a cool place, have them drink fluids and rest, loosen their clothes, and cool them off with water or wet cloths. Heat exhaustion can quickly lead to heat stroke. If symptoms worsen or do not improve, get medical help.

Heat cramps

  • Muscle cramps in the abdominal area or arms and legs that are often accompanied by heavy sweating and mild nausea.

What to do: Move the person to a cool place to rest and apply firm pressure to the cramping muscle. Gently stretch the cramped muscle, hold it for 20 seconds and then gently massage it. Have the person drink some cool beverages, such as water or a sports drink. Get medical help if there is no improvement or if the person has underlying medical problems.


  • Dehydration is caused by excessive loss of water and salts from the body due to illness or from prolonged exposure to heat.
  • Severe dehydration can easily become a life-threatening condition for infants and the elderly.
  • Signs of dehydration include thirst, dry skin, fatigue, light-headedness, confusion, dry mouth, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and less frequent urination.

What to do: Move the person to a cool and dry place. Have the person lie down and rest, and drink water, juice, or sports drinks. Monitor the person – especially children and the elderly.


  • Skin that is red, painful and warm after sun exposure.

What to do: Get medical help if the sunburn affects an infant or if there is fever, fluid-filled blisters or severe pain. Otherwise, apply cold compresses or immerse the burned skin in cool water, apply moisturizing lotion to the burn.

Heat rash

  • A rash that looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters, usually in the neck and upper chest or in body creases. Most common in young children.

What to do: Move the person to a cooler place and keep the affected area dry. Use talcum powder to increase comfort.

Prevention tips

  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing
  • Avoid dark-colored clothing, because dark colors absorb the heat
  • Drink lots of fluids — non-alcoholic
  • Check your medications — some make you more sensitive to sun and heat
  • Never leave a child, an elderly person, a pet, or any living creature in a parked car in hot weather. Ever.
  • Avoid strenuous activity. If you can’t, try to do it in early morning or evening. Take breaks and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Read and remember the signs I listed at the beginning of this post.

Counselling / Pixabay

Don’t forget your pets

The ASPCA has several important tips on its website, including

  • Give them plenty of fresh, clean water
  • Bring indoors if extremely hot
  • Never leave alone in a hot car

Something I didn’t know — “Animals with flat faces, like Pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively.”

Here are some heat -related symptoms the ASPCA says you should be on the lookout for:

  • Excessive panting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased heart and respiratory rate
  • Drooling
  • Mild weakness, stupor or even collapse
  • Seizures
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Body temperature above 104°

Our summers are short, so enjoy the sun and hot weather while they’re here, but be careful. And, as my mother always told me, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.” In other words, don’t stack wood at high noon on a hot day. Head straight for the hammock!

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.