Surviving the summer heat for people with physical disabilities

Getting out and enjoying the summer sun can be fun and emotionally uplifting, especially after
being cooped up in your home during the winter months. The summer brings new life and opportunities to go and visit new places. However, being out for long periods of time during the long hot summer months can be quite harmful to you, especially for someone with a physical disability. This does not mean that you can never go outside and enjoy the sun—it simply means that you need to be safe and aware when you do so. Heat can affect the body in negative ways, and you need to know how to take action if you experience heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Bodily harm, and even death, can occur as a result of the summer heat. "Cooling down"

Below, we will discuss the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. We will talk about the signs of each, how to treat the symptoms if you do experience problems, and how to prevent health problems from happening when you venture out into the hot summer sun.

Two types: Heat exhaustion and Heat stroke

There are two types of  health-related problems due to extreme heat. One is heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The CDC has stated that every year on average in the summer there are 658 deaths in the United States due to extreme heat.

Heat exhaustion

What exactly is heat exhaustion?  What are the signs?  Heat exhaustion is when the body has lost too much water and salt from excessive
sweating. However, some people with physical disabilities and especially spinal cord injuries, will not be able to sweat and have a very difficult time cooling down. For those of you that cannot sweat at all, it would be wise to limit your time in the sun and go out early or later part of the day when the sun is not so strong.

Signs to look for:

  • Extreme sweating"Sun"
  • Cramping
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting


  • Drinking cool, non-alcoholic beverages
  • Lying down to rest
  • Taking a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath
  • Sitting in an air-conditioned environment
  • Putting on lightweight clothing

Warning! If heat exhaustion is not treated right away, it can lead to heat stroke—which can cause neurological and internal damage to the body and possible even death.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is when the body can no longer control its temperature and is the
most serious of heat-related illnesses. The Mayo Clinic has stated that if heatstroke goes untreated, it can cause damage to your brain, heart, and kidneys.

Signs to look for

  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Very high body temperature of about 104°
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Strange behavior
  • Unconsciousness
  • Rapid pulse
  • Throbbing headache


  • Contact medical help immediately
  • Move to a shady area
  • Cool the person off rapidly with a cool shower or bath. If you are not near a shower, then cool them off by spraying them with a garden hose
  • Do not give the person fluids to drink
  • Continue to monitor the person’s body temperature and continue to use the cooling methods as suggested until medical personnel arrives.

It is important to apply the treatments that were suggested because heatstroke is very serious and can lead to death.


There are several ways heat-related illnesses can be prevented:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Replenish the salt and minerals in your body by drinking sports drinks and taking salt tablets. Warning! Be sure to consult your doctor first if you are on a low- salt diet before taking these things to replenish your salts and minerals.
  • Wear proper clothing and an adequate amount of sunscreen
  • Avoid going out into the sun when it is the strongest
  • Stay cool indoors
  • Have a buddy with you when outdoors so that they can monitor you if you start to experience any of these heat-related illnesses.
  • Be on the lookout for those at high risk for heat exhaustion, like people 65 years or older & small children
  • Adjust to your environment. Keep a lookout on your local weather so you know whether if it is a good idea to go outside or not.
  • Do not leave small children or anyone with a physical disability in a parked car in the hot sun. A parked car is very dangerous and the temperatures of the vehicle can rise to almost 20°F within the first 10 minutes.

Photo copyright to moyerphotos

Photo copyright to Martin Cathrae



Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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