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Let Military Veterans Teach You How to Beat the Heat



Security Forces Airman 1st Class Chris Culross stands guard at the Flightline Entry Control Point at Prince Sultan Air Base, Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia. It's not unusual for July temperatures to reach 120 degrees in the Gulf.

Official USAF Photo
Updated June 02, 2008

For more than 18 years now (since the first Gulf War in 1990), members of the U.S. Military have had to learn to deal with the dangerous aspects of extreme heat. In July, it is not unusual for temperatures in the Persian Gulf region to climb to a sizzling 122 degrees, cooling only to about 100 degrees at night. In spite of the heat, military people work round the clock, launching dozens of aircraft sorties all day and night, and patrolling the streets and countryside of Iraq.

In extreme heat, there are four primary dangers to watch out for. In order of seriousness, they are sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.


Sunburn doesn't necessarily require high temperatures. It occurs when the skin is exposed to direct sunlight for an extended period of time. The reddened skin and pain normally presents itself within 24 hours of sun exposure and generally peaks at 72 hours. Blisters may be present in extreme cases.

The best therapy for sunburn is prevention with the wearing of clothing or sun block. If possible, one should avoid sun exposure during the peak day (10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M). Cool compresses and topical pain medications may produce symptomatic relief. Topical steroids (such as betamethasone) and oral NSAIDs (such as indomethacin) may be of benefit, but could possibly be addictive.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps result during strenuous physical activity, when the body begins to dehydrate. Symptoms are normally noted when one takes a drink of water immediately following physical activity.. Immediately after drinking, one will start feeling skeletal muscle cramps, followed by profuse sweating. The treatment for heat cramps is immediate rest, and steady rehydration.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a serious medical condition, and if not treated, can quickly develop into heat stroke. It is cause mainly by body over-heat due to dehydration. The symptoms are clammy skin, fatigue, light-headdress, nausea, vomiting, headache, tachycardia, hyperventilation, hypotension, normal or slightly elevated body temperature, and profuse sweating. Rest and immediate replacement of fluids is necessary. This may require hospitalization for IV fluids.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a medical emergency which needs rapid treatment to prevent death or severe and permanent brain damage. Heat stroke is caused by extreme body temperature and severe body fluid depletion. The symptoms are high body temperature (often 106 degrees and above), sweating, or may be dry, loss of consciousness, or alteration in mental status (hallucinations, bizarre behavior, or other neurologic symptoms). Treat with fluids, remove clothing and apply water to skin and fan to promote evaporative heat loss. Get immediate medical attention.

So, what can you do to reduce the risks of heat exhaustion or heat stroke?

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