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NM EPHT Health Effects: Heat Stress

      What to Do During Extreme Heat      Staying Cool       

Health Risks with Extreme Heat Heat Stress

During extreme heat and heat waves New Mexicans can be at risk for heat stress. Heat stress is heat-related illness which can have many symptoms. This includes adverse health conditions such as heat exhaustion which can lead to heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Its main signs include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, as well as feeling tired, weak and/or dizzy.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and happens when the body loses its ability to sweat. Dehydration and over exposure to the sun can cause heat stroke. The main sign of heat stroke is an elevated body temperature greater than 104 degrees and changes in mental status ranging from personality changes to confusion.

Who Can Be Affected

Anyone can be affected. People at highest risk are the elderly, the very young, and people with existing chronic diseases such as heart disease, and people without access to air conditioning. But even young and healthy people can get sick from the heat if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather.

If you live in the southern part of the state it is important to stay cool even though you may feel you are accustomed to the hot temperatures. Make sure your children and your elderly loved ones are in air conditioned place and are drinking plenty of water. A recent Department of Health report indicates that in southern New Mexico where high temperatures are common in the summer, there is an increased risk of visits to the emergency room for heat-related illness. Residents in this area could be at high risk of heat stress especially in June and July.

Heat Stress Report (427.6 KB)

See the Heat Stress Emergency Department Visits in New Mexico on the NM Tracking Data Query.

What to do:


The Department of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises you to take these steps to prevent heat-related illnesses, injuries, and deaths during hot weather:

  • Stay cool indoors; do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device.
  • Drink more water than usual
  • Avoid alcohol or liquids containing high amounts of sugar
  • Replace salt and minerals.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Schedule outdoor activities carefully.
  • Pace yourself.
  • Monitor people at high risk.
  • Do not leave children or pets in cars.

Make sure children stay hydrated and remain indoors in a place with air conditioning on hot days. On those hot summer days when when temperatures are at the highest consider going to a local public library, museum, and a community center. These are good places for child activity time because often these sites have air conditioning (refrigerated air).

Children or animals can be seriously injured or die as temperatures rise within just 10 to 30 minutes of being left alone in a car. Do not leave your children or pets in the car while you are running errands no matter how quick you think it will be. Studies show the practice of leaving a vehicle window partially open, or “cracked,” has little effect on decreasing temperature inside.


It is important that adults age 65 and older stay cool. During hot temperatures recreational sports and activities should be done indoors in a cool setting such as at a local senior center. Senior Centers, shopping malls and public libraries are great places to beat the heat. Seniors who are members of local senior centers should take advantage of their membership on hot days.

Check up on elderly or ill relatives who are living on their own during the summer months when temperatures soar. It is critical for loved ones and neighbors to check on seniors who are vulnerable to extreme heat and may need access to a cool environment.  If you know of someone who is homebound and without a properly functioning air conditioner, visit or call them to ask how they are doing.

To find services for seniors in your community call 800-432-2080.

Outdoor Workers

Outdoor workers in agriculture, construction, and other industries are exposed to a great deal of exertional and environmental heat stress that may lead to severe illness or death. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that employers have a plan in place to prevent heat-related illness. The plan should include hydration (drinking plenty of water), acclimatization (getting used to weather conditions), and schedules that alternate work with rest. Employers should also train workers about the hazards of working in hot environments [NIOSH 1986, 2008, 2010; OSHA-NIOSH 2011].

Preventing Heat-related Illness or Death of Outdoor Workers (683.8 KB)

Protecting Workers from Heat Illness (218.2 KB)

To learn more about occupational health and to learn how to report occupational illness or injury visit the health department’s Occupational Health Surveillance Program.

Are you fire worker? Workers and volunteers face hazards even after fires are extinguished, including heat stress. Learn more about Fire worker and volunteer safety.

Treatment Drink Water

If you suspect someone is suffering heat stroke or heat exhaustion:

  • Move them out of the sun and into a shady or air-conditioned space.
  • Cool the person by covering him or her with damp sheets or by spraying with cool water.
  • Direct air onto the person with a fan or newspaper.
  • Have the person drink cool water if he or she is able.
  • Dial 911 immediately.

Staying Cool

It is important to stay cool and hydrated. In New Mexico during high temperatures the best bet for staying cool is to stay out of the direct sun and be in a place with an air conditioner. During summer keep the window coverings closed during the day to block the sun's heat. Keeping the shades drawn and the curtains closed in the daytime can keep homes cooler.

Also during the day when temperatures are extreme consider doing activities indoors such as visiting your local public library, participating in activities at the local community center, visiting a museum, and going to a local gym for exercise. These places are usually cooled with air conditioning (refrigerated air). Find a public library. Find a museum.

Swamp coolers (evaporative coolers) work well during dry weather. However, when the air is filled with smoke, like during wildfires, it is better to go to a cooling center or a place with air conditioning (refrigerated air) than it is to stay home and use your swamp cooler. This is because evaporative coolers do not filter out the smoke and can pull smoke into your home. This puts you at risk for respiratory health issues. (Learn what to do during wildfires and smoky conditions).

Sometimes your community will set up cooling centers. The cooling centers are a good option to beat the heat. These are free, will have air conditioning and may have cold water. Often times the locations provide a nice setting for activities and socializing. Check with your local government and local media to see if, when and where cooling centers are set up. Or you may choose to go a family member’s home which is equipped with an air conditioner.