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Staying Healthy and Cool During Extreme Heat

Thursday, June 21, 2012
The Department of Mental Health offers a prevention guide for health and safety.

Department of Mental Health Offers Prevention Guide for Health and Safety

District residents with mental illness who take certain prescription medications are among the groups most at risk for heat-related illness or death. Further, people with mental illness often suffer from chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, obesity or high blood pressure, which increases the risk.

The Department of Mental Health encourages people who take certain medications to follow simple precautions that can lessen the risk of heat-related illness or death. In addition, the Department reminds community based mental health providers to pay close attention to consumers for signs of heat-related illness. 

Prevention Guide for Staying Healthy

  • Drink plenty of fluids no matter your activity level.  Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink.  Avoid liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar because they cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks which can cause stomach cramps.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen.
  • Limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours if possible.
  • Use a buddy system. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness. If you know someone 65 years of age or older, check on them at least twice a day.  If you are in this age group, have a friend or relative call you twice a day during a heat wave. If you know someone in this age group, check on them at least twice a day.
  • Avoid hot foods and heavy meals which add heat to your body.

Air-conditioning is the number one protection against heat-related illness and death. If your home is not air-conditioned, visit a public facility—such as a library—that is air-conditioned especially during the mid-day hours.

Recognizing Hot Weather Health Emergencies

Even short periods of high temperatures can cause serious health problems. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of health related emergencies in yourself and others and know what to do.

Heat Stroke. Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided. Warning signs of heat stroke may include a body temperature above 103 degrees, dizziness, red, hot and dry skin with no sweating, nausea, confusion, rapid, strong pulse and unconsciousness.

What to Do
If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Call 911 immediately.  You can help by cooling the person rapidly using whatever methods you can—cool water from a garden hose, a cool shower or bath, or a wet towel. Do not give the person fluids to drink.

Heat Exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and insufficient fluids. Warning signs of heat exhaustion may include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, headache, fainting, cool and moist skin, or a fast and weak pulse rate, or fast and shallow breathing

What to Do
If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. Call 911 immediately if symptoms are severe or if a person has heart problems or high blood pressure. Otherwise, help the person cool off with a cool shower, or cool, nonalcoholic beverages, and rest. Seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour.

Other heat related illness may occur, such as heat cramps, sunburn, and heat rash. For more information on heat-related illness prevention, go to