When exposed to extreme heat, it can cause illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. The latter should not be taken lightly as it can potentially be life-threatening as it can cause damage to the body’s systems.
It is important that you fully understand the steps that you should take to avoid these heat-related illnesses.
Heatstroke VS Heat Exhaustion
If you have ever heard someone speaking of sunstroke, this is what they mean and it is the most serious if any heat-related illnesses.
When the temperature of the human body reaches temperatures of 104°F or more, heatstroke occurs and it is a serious life-threatening medical emergency.
There are actually two types of heat stroke which we will look at in a minute.
Heatstroke needs immediate attention and when left untreated, it can damage multiple organs and systems such as:
- The brain and nervous system
- The circulatory system
- The lungs
- The liver
- The kidneys
- The digestive tract
- The muscles
Heat exhaustion on the other hand is not as serious as heatstroke and can usually be dealt with by resting and rehydrating the body.
Symptoms should start improving but if not, seek medical attention so as not to prevent heatstroke.
As with most illnesses, there are certain factors that can make a person more likely to experience heat exhaustion or heatstroke than others. These factors include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a significant disability
- Having a sunburn
- Being younger than 13 or older than 65
- Using some prescription medications for heart conditions or high blood pressure, particularly diuretics
- Experiencing sudden changes in temperature, such as by traveling from a cold to a hot climate
- pending time outdoors in extreme heat, or indoors without a way to cool down
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke
The symptoms of heat-related illness can develop rather quickly. They can cause significant distress, and muscle cramping will often be the first symptom.
Heat exhaustion can lead to:
- Muscle cramps
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
- Excessive sweating
- Cold, clammy skin
- Dark-colored urine
Heatstroke will often start with some of the symptoms above and then develop into a potentially life-threatening situation. The symptoms could worse to include:
- Temperature of 104ºF or higher
- Hot, dry skin
- Rapid heartbeat
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
We mentioned above that there were actually two types of heatstroke. These are exertional and non-exertional heatstroke.
- Non-exertional heatstroke – occurs in those who cannot adapt well to increasingly hot temperatures. This often occurs when someone is indoors without air conditioning.
- Exertional heatstroke – occurs in people whose bodies can no longer adapt to rising temperatures while exercising or working. Usually occurs when spending extended periods of time outdoors.
Children and pets are of high risk of heatstroke when spending time in closed cars. The hotter that it is outside of the vehicle, the faster the temperature rises inside.
How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke
Even on the hottest of days, you can usually prevent these illnesses by taking precautions. The goal during these times is to keep the body cool.
The following simple strategies should be memorized as they will help you when needed:
- You should try to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day
- If outside, you should try to stay in the shade
- Drink an extra 2–4 cups of water every hour to ensure the body stays well hydrated
- Take plenty of breaks when working or exercising outdoors
- Wear loose, light-colored clothing
- When bathing, use cooler water
- Sprinkle water over skin or clothes
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shield the face from the sun
- Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol as these drinks dehydrate
- Wear breathable fabrics like cotton
- When possible, try to spend part of the day in an air-conditioned place
- Never leave ANYBODY alone in a parked car during extreme heat.
To cool somebody down that is experiencing heat exhaustion you need to move them to a cool place and get them to lie down with their feet slightly raised. Give them plenty of water (sports drinks and rehydration drinks are also fine).
Cool their skin with a spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them. Cold packs around the armpits or neck are good too. Stay with them until they are feeling better.