Human Health

Heat and Your Health

The dog days of summer are usually associated with August, but in the South, hot and humid days can begin much earlier and last until well into the fall. Heat waves during the summer months can have disastrous effects on human health. According to the National Weather Service, heat was the number one cause of weather-related deaths in the 10-year period 2000-2010.

How does too much heat affect the body? Our bodies work to maintain an internal temperature of 98.6 degrees. When we get overheated, our core temperature begins to rise and we may develop heat-related problems such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke (sunstroke).

Heatstroke occurs when body temperature rises rapidly, sweating stops, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperatures of 106 degrees and above can cause damage to the brain and other internal organs. Unless emergency treatment occurs, the person may have permanent disabilities or may die.

Who is at risk? Anyone can develop a heat-related disorder, but older people, young children, and people with chronic illnesses are especially at risk. The National Weather Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest avoiding heat-related illnesses by following these tips:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Dress in lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Eat light meals and avoid hot meals and heavy foods.
  • Try to limit your outdoor activities to morning and evening hours. If you must be out at mid-day—the hottest time of day—slow down!
  • Spend more time in air-conditioned places.
  • Do not leave infants, children, or pets in a parked car.
  • Do not get sunburned. Use sunscreen. Avoid the mid-day sun. Rest in shady areas.

For more information, contact Dr. Kathleen Tajeu, an Extension Family and Consumer Sciences specialist in human nutrition, diet, and nutrition.


Fact Sheets


  • The American Red Cross defines terms and instructions on what to do when a heat wave is predicted. The information is available in English and in Spanish.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have several first aid tips for heat-related disorders
  • Cooperative Extension Search offers links to resources at nearly 1,000 Cooperative Extension sites.
  • The Environmental and Societal Impacts Group of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a nonprofit consortium of North American member universities and international affiliates, maintains the Heat Wave Awareness Project.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has information on preparing for heat waves. The EPA has also recently added a Children’s Health Protection site. It includes information on the effects of extreme heat on children and pregnant women.  
  • eXtension includes articles about families and health.
  • The National Weather Service provides information on heat waves.