Who’s at Risk for Heat-Related Illness?

Summers are hotter than ever before, and the heat can have some major health consequences. Heat related-illness can be very serious and they can affect anyone. There are, however, certain demographics that are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses than others. Be especially mindful of how the heat affects small children, athletes, and older adults.

Children, older adults, and athletes are at a higher risk for heat-related illness

Knowing that certain groups of people are more susceptible to heat-related illness can help keep them safe. It can help remind you to keep a close eye on these groups and be more diligent in preventing illnesses cause by heat.


Children aren’t great at gauging how they’re feeling. They may be hot, thirsty, and overheated, but they’ll keep playing. By the time they tell a parent that they’re thirsty, they’re already dehydrated. What’s more, children are more easily affected by the heat than adults.


Adults over 65 are also more susceptible to heat than younger adults, and therefore at a higher risk for heat-related illnesses. Many older adults live on their own and might not see others regularly throughout the day. This means that the symptoms of heat-related illness may go unnoticed longer in older adults.


Athletes are also at an increased risk for heat-related illnesses such as cramping, heat rash, fainting, heat exhaustion, rhabdomyolysis, and heat stroke. Physical exertion increases the risk for dehydration and heat-related illnesses, especially when doing strenuous physical activity in extreme heat.

Others at higher risk

There are other groups of people who are at a higher risk for illnesses caused by heat. Those who are overweight or underweight, those with circulation problems, people with high blood pressure, those taking medications that make it difficult to sweat, and those with chronic illnesses should be especially cautious in extreme heat.

Tips for staying safe from heat-related illness

Keep cool

  • Escape the heat by staying in air-conditioned buildings.
  • Pay attention to the forecast and outdoor temperature, and stay indoors during extreme heat.
  • Spend time in the shade when outdoors, and don’t stay in the heat or direct sunlight for too long.
  • Wear sunscreen and reapply often.
  • Wear lightweight, light colored, and loose fitting clothing.
  • Take cold showers or baths to help keep cool.

Stay hydrated

  • Many heat-related illnesses occur after dehydration. Drink plenty of water.
  • It’s also important to replenish electrolytes, especially after sweating. This can be done with foods rather than sports drinks.
  • Drink water before physical activity as well as during.
  • Drink water to stay hydrated even if you’re not thirsty.
  • Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages both of which can cause dehydration.

Take it easy

  • Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Get outside earlier in the morning or later in the evening.
  • Stop and rest if you feel overheated, and teach children to do the same.

Watch for symptoms

  • Look for warning signs of heat-related illness.
  • Call 911 immediately if you notice signs of heat stroke.