What is Heat Edema?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2019
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Heat edema is a swelling of the extremities associated with exposure to high temperatures. It most commonly occurs during a heat wave, when the temperature is unusually high, or when someone accustomed to a cool or temperate climate visits a hot one. This condition itself is not dangerous, but it can be a sign that a person could be at risk for a more serious heat-related illness, such as heatstroke. There are a number of measures people can use to prevent and address heat edema.

This condition occurs when the body starts to retain water and have trouble excreting salt. It is believed to be linked to an increase in the hormone aldosterone. Heat edema can set in after a day or more in an unusually warm climate, or it can onset more quickly in people who are working outdoors or engaging in heavy physical activity.

People usually notice that rings and other jewelry feel tight. Heat edema is often accompanied with flushing of the face. Garments may feel restrictive, the patient usually sweats, and there is generally a sensation of being hot and uncomfortable.

Immediate treatment for heat edema involves getting the patient into a cool place, providing cold fluids to drink, and elevating the extremities to reduce swelling. The edema can resolve very quickly in a location like an air conditioned building, helping the patient to feel more comfortable. This will also prevent heatstroke and more serious heat-related illnesses.


Allowing people to acclimate slowly to the effects of heat can reduce the risk that heat edema will develop. If the weather is hot, people should try to spend time in cool places and should work or engage in physical activity in bursts, and not during the hottest part of the day, to give their bodies a chance to adjust. People who are traveling to a hot climate should bring layers of clothing so they can dress down for the heat, and should make sure that they have access to a cool place to rest if they start to feel too hot.

If the weather is hot and someone reports feeling dizzy or confused, is slurring words or stumbling, or is behaving abnormally in other ways, that person should be brought to a hospital for treatment for heatstroke. Heatstroke can onset very suddenly and people have varying degrees of sensitivity to heat. Thus, some people may be fine in certain temperatures, while others may be at risk of heatstroke.


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Post 4

When I am really hot, I soak my feet in a bucket of cold water. It seems to cool me off.

Post 3

@purplespark: Here are a few more tips for staying cool: Turn off any heat sources such as electrical appliances or stoves. Eat cold food such as sandwiches instead of cooking. Take cool showers or baths. Move to the lowest level of your home because heat rises. Keep your curtains and blinds closed during the day to block sunlight.

It is also important to know that in extreme heat, it can be dangerous to cool your body off too quickly. You can become nauseated and very dizzy.

Post 2

@purplespark: If it is really hot where he lives, I would recommend that he stay at a friend or family member’s house until he can get his air fixed. Extreme heat (or extreme cold) is much worse on the elderly than it is younger people.

If he doesn’t have anywhere to go, there are some things that he can do to try and stay cool and keep his core temperature down. Obviously, stay out of direct sunlight and avoid strenuous activity during peak hours. Drink tons of water even when you’re not necessarily thirsty because it helps your body cool down. Avoid any beverages with alcohol or caffeine because it can cause dehydration in hot temperatures.

Post 1

My father is 79 and just informed me that his air conditioner tore up about a week ago. I live in another state and I can't make it down there for a few more days. What are some suggestions on how he can stay cool?

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