Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke + How to Support Yourself in the Summer Heat

Western Medicine

Heat exhaustion is the first phase of heat related illnesses during the summer time and can manifest with cramps, profuse sweating, weakness, nausea, vomiting, headaches and lightheadedness.  A lot of these symptoms arise because the body isn’t able to cool itself properly so the heat from the environment coupled with our metabolic heat causes body temps to rise.  If you suspect you or someone you’re working, recreating or hanging with is showing signs of heat exhaustion the best things to do are:

  1. Stop activities
  2. Move to a cooler environment in the shade, inside, in a tub of cool water, mist them with water with a fan gently blowing on them
  3. Rehydrate with electrolytes – watermelon juice is great for heat exhaustion, Gatorade, Emergen-C and other electrolyte drink mixes are fantastic as well.  Any liquid you drink should be at room temperature, which I realize might sound super gross when all you want is a cold refreshing beverage, BUT when you’re body is really warm, really cold drinks have the potential to cause stomach cramps.  Which nobody wants.

Heat exhaustion becomes heat stroke when the body’s ability to cool itself totally tanks.  In heat stroke people actually stop sweating, a very dangerous sign, and often develop lethargy, flushed skin, nausea or vomiting, rapid or shallow breathing, altered mental state and might be confused.  Heat stroke is a life threatening condition and if someone has progressed to this phase of summer heat illnesses they need immediate medical care. 

Heat stroke can develop for a couple reasons.  Exposure to a hot environment that is also fairly humid (aka: Iowa summers!) – we’re more likely to experience heat stroke in humidity because our sweat doesn’t evaporate as readily (right, cause the air is already pretty saturated with water molecules).  The other way heat stroke generally develops is through strenuous activity in super hot weather, so be careful and be prepared while you enjoy the bike trails, rivers and paths of our beautiful Driftless area!

I felt like summer had taken me over.
— Yunio Diaz

You can help prevent heat stroke during the summer by wearing clothes that have exceptional wicking properties and help pull sweat away from your skin (these often also provide a bit of UPF protection), staying hydrated (small sips throughout the day), taking it easy during the hottest hours of the day and being aware of alcohol consumption during the hottest days as it can affect our ability to thermo regulate. 

Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine recognizes this set of very seasonal symptoms as those of Summer Heat.  The symptoms of Summer Heat are excess body heat, profuse sweating, weakness, dry mouth and throat, constipation and heart palpitations.  It can also lead to things like insomnia, agitation and when combined with damp: nausea.  Summer Heat generally affects the Stomach/Large Intestine, Heart/Pericardium and body fluids.  The Stomach, Large Intestine, Heart and Pericardium are all organs in Chinese medicine with an affinity for heat and fire, which helps explain why they are more sensitive this time of year. 


Foods generally recommended during this time help clear heat as well as drain damp.  Heat is a pathogen that’s pretty easy to understand, but I think Damp is a bit more obscure and can cause a wide range of symptoms depending on where it’s located.  In our region we can see damp in the summer directly as humidity.  It makes us lethargic, move a bit slower, our appetite decreases, we can either get loose or sticky stools, and might feel a bit ‘muggy’ because on some days our sweat doesn’t evaporate and just hangs out. 

There are specific foods we can use to help clear Summer Heat and be more comfortable even on the warmest of days.  Below is a helpful list of foods you can consider incorporating and a lovely tea recipe that helps clear heat and cool us down from the inside out!

  • Watermelon!
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppermint
  • Lemon
  • Apples
  • Cantaloupe
  • Mung bean (in soup)
  • Summer squash
  • Short grain white rice or basmati rice
  • Yi yi ren
  • Lotus root
  • Black sesame seed
  • Celery

Below is a recipe for a delicious summer time tea that you can enjoy during even the hottest days!!

  • Wu wei zi (schsandra fruit)    12g
  • Gou zi qi (goji berries)            10g
  • Ju hua (chrysanthemum flowers)       6g
  • Bo he (peppermint)                3g

Combine these 4 herbs and using a strainer or tea bag let them steep, covered, in a quart of hot water.  You can enjoy the cooling effects of this tea throughout the day!   I steep to taste, usually 10 minute or so.

The spring rains woke the dormant tillers, and bright green shoots sprang from the moist earth and rose like sleepers stretching after a long nap. As spring gave way to summer, the bright green stalks darkened, became tan, turned golden brown. The days grew long and hot. Thick towers of swirling black clouds brought rain, and the brown stems glistened in the perpetual twilight that dwelled beneath the canopy. The wheat rose and the ripening heads bent in the prairie wind, a rippling curtain, an endless, undulating sea that stretched to the horizon.
— Rick Yancy