By Sheryl Bedno, MD, DrPH

As we enter August, there are at least several more weeks of warm weather to come for the Washington, DC area. When hot temperatures hit, they can cause much more than discomfort – there can be negative effects to your health. By understanding the health implications of heat, you can better understand the urgency of being prepared for heat events. Even if you typically do okay in the heat, it is never too late to learn some preventive measures to protect yourself, friends, family, and neighbors against high temperatures or even heat waves. 

Those who are exposed to the heat, especially with humidity, are at risk of heat-related illness. Some individuals are at even higher risk, and they include infants and young children, older adults, individuals who take certain medications such as for depression or circulation issues, and those with certain serious medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. 

Heat-related illnesses can range from the milder heat rash or heat cramps to heat exhaustion and the most severe – heat stroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion, for example, can include dizziness, fatigue, headache, nausea, and muscle cramps. Heat stroke, a life-threatening medical emergency, may also include confusion, loss of consciousness (passing out), and a body temperature of 103°F or more. If one suspects heat stroke, call 911 and until emergency assistance arrives, place the affected individual in a shaded or cooler area. 

There are several things you can do to stay safer in the heat. Check the weather forecast regularly and pay close attention to the heat index and any heat advisories or warnings. For example, a temperature of 88°F with a high relative humidity of 80% has a heat index of 106 – and this is considered a dangerous level with a higher likelihood of heat-related illness. With high temperatures, try to spend as much time indoors or in shaded areas if possible. Keep hydrated, use sunscreen, and wear lightweight and lightly colored clothing. Pets can also be affected by heat and hot pavement. Walk dogs in the morning or during the cooler parts of the day, preferably in grassy areas, and ensure they have enough water.

Cooling centers, places where people can go to cool down temporarily, are located throughout the DC area and often include public libraries. Individuals who depend on others for assistance in daily living, have mental health conditions, or who have limited mobility and access are especially at risk so neighbors, friends, and family members should regularly reach out when temperatures soar. 

You can be better prepared and even prevent heat-related illness by educating yourself on extreme heat, heat-related illnesses, and the various resources available online or through your local library. For information on Washington, DC’s cooling centers and other heat emergency plans go to, call 311, or text 311 to 32311.

Sheryl Bedno is a Southwest resident and public health physician. 

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