Beat the Heat

Prevent heat-related illnesses this summer

Whether it’s an Ultimate Frisbee tournament set up by the youth group, a festival for the children’s area, or a church-sponsored softball team for small groups, many churches hold outdoor events during the warm summer months. While these events are a fun way to reach out to the community, it’s important to keep an eye on the participants, because if you’re unprepared for heat-related illness, things can get hot fast.

Excessive heat is defined as temperatures that hover 10 degrees or more above the average high for the region and is coupled with high humidity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heat waves are a leading cause of extreme weather-related deaths in the United States, killing more than 500 people each year.

Three types of heat-related illness

Heat Cramps. The mildest heat-related condition, heat cramps, consists of muscle pain and spasms caused by heavy physical exertion in high heat. While not deadly, heat cramps are a warning sign that your body is becoming stressed by the heat. If any members of your church develop muscle cramps, it is important to:

  • Get them out of the heat immediately.
  • Have them rest in a comfortable position.
  • Lightly stretch and gently massage the affected muscle.
  • Give them a half a glass of water every 15 minutes.

Do NOT provide liquids that contain alcohol or caffeine, as they can worsen conditions by causing further dehydration.

Heat Exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is the second most serious of the three heat-related disorders. Some symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Cool, moist, pale, or flushed skin.
  • Dizziness, exhaustion and nausea.
  • Faintness.
  • Goosebumps, in spite of the heat.
  • Headache.
  • Heavy sweating.
  • Low blood pressure upon standing.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Normal, or below normal body temperature.
  • Weak, rapid pulse.

These symptoms may start suddenly or may develop gradually after days of heat exposure.

If you suspect that people are suffering from heat exhaustion, it is important to:

  • Get them into an air-conditioned building or vehicle. If an air-conditioned environment is not available, move them to a shaded area.
  • Have them rest on their backs, with their legs higher than their heart level.
  • Make them drink cool fluids—stick to water.
  • Apply cool water to their skin.
  • Loosen clothing, and remove any clothing that is unnecessary.

Seek medical attention if they don’t begin to feel better within 60 minutes, or if their body temperature reaches 104ºF or higher.

Heatstroke. Heatstroke is the most serious of the three heat-related conditions, and is a medical emergency requiring immediate professional medical attention to prevent brain damage, organ failure, or death. Call 911 immediately. Here are some steps you can take to help prevent permanent injury or death while waiting for emergency responders to arrive:

  • Get them into an air-conditioned building or vehicle.
  • Apply cool water to their skin.

Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Very high body temperature—sometimes as high as 106ºF.
  • Changes in consciousness.
  • Hot, red skin.
  • Lack of sweating.
  • Muscle weakness or cramps.
  • Rapid pulse.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing.
  • Seizures, hallucinations, or difficulty speaking.
  • Vomiting.


If your church has planned outdoor activities this summer, it is important to warn participants of the danger excessive heat poses. Here are some tips to keep everyone healthy and cool, in spite of the heat:

  • Don’t schedule outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day.
  • Take frequent breaks in the shade or an air conditioned space to allow everyone to cool down and rehydrate.
  • Ask participants to dress appropriately for the environment—loose fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing is best.
  • Provide water for participants, and encourage them to drink large amounts before, during, and after physical activity.
  • Always keep a first-aid kit with a thermometer and instant cold packs on hand, so that you can check the temperature of participants, and cool them off if they are dangerously hot.