Heat exhaustion vs. heatstroke
What is heat exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion is a condition that happens when an individual exercises or plays in a hot humid environment. During this time large amounts of body fluids that contain essential electrolytes are loss through the excessive sweating, dehydration results and the body overheats. Once the body overheats an individual’s temperature may elevate up to 104 degrees F, (40 C).
What is heatstroke?
Heatstroke, also known as sunstroke is a life threatening condition, if undetected. The cooling system in an individual suffering with heatstroke stops working properly. This means that sweating alone is unable to cool the body and as a result the body temperature may elevate to 105 degrees F (40.5 degrees C). With a body temperature this high, damage to the brain and other major organs is inevitable.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 700 people die every year from heat-related conditions, illnesses that are preventable. With heat-related conditions being preventable, doesn’t this make you wonder why so many people succumb to them?
Awareness and anticipation
Since heat-related deaths are preventable it’s important to know what signs and symptoms to lookout for, who’s at a greater risk, and what actions you can take for prevention.
Risk factors of developing a heat-related condition
- Exercising in a hot humid environment (increased humidity won’t allow sweat to evaporate rapidly, interfering with the body releasing heat quickly and properly). Always use sunscreen lotion when out in the sun for more than 10 minutes and after applying sunscreen lotion always wait at least 15 minutes before you go out in the sun. This gives the lotion time to penetrate your skin.
- The elderly (65 y/o and >) are at the greatest risk for developing a heat-related condition because their body is unable to adjust to high temperatures as well and quickly as a younger body is able to. The elderly may also have chronic medical conditions and/or are on a chronic medication regimen that interferes with proper perspiration, etc.
- Individuals with a chronic medical condition are at risk because their systems are already compromised, making them more vulnerable.
- Infants are a high-risk for developing a heat-related illness because they are unable to communicate how they feel, and tell us what’s bothering them.
- The mentally-ill are at great risk for developing a heat-related illness because they may not have the mental capability to come out of the heat and/or to seek help as needed.
Warning signs to be aware of
Signs of heat exhaustion
A few signs of heat exhaustion may consist of muscle cramps (could be the 1st sign), heavy sweating with dampen skin, weakness and feeling faint, and nausea and vomiting. Signs of an infant becoming heat exhausted may consist of red-flushed moist skin, severe agitation with endless crying, spitting up and/or vomiting. In severe cases the infant may be sluggish or will not respond to any type of stimuli. The goal in this condition is to cool the body down as fast as possible with cooling techniques (water, ice packs to skin, loosen clothing, etc.) If heat exhaustion is left untreated, it could progress to a heatstroke.
Signs of heatstroke
The main signs of a heatstroke are a body temperature > 104 degrees F, hot red dry or moist skin, rapid pounding pulse and loss of consciousness. A heatstroke is a medical emergency, an emergent condition so if any of these symptoms are present, call 911 immediately.
Natural remedies to prevent heat-related conditions
- Exercise in a cool environment. If you walk or jog outside for your exercising, do it early in the morning or later in the evening when the temperature is cooler and the sun is not scorching hot.
- If you have elderly loved-ones/friends, check on them frequently to make sure their environment is conducive to prevent heat exhaustion. Air conditioning is the number one way to maintain coolness in high temperatures along with ceiling and stationary fans to keep the air circulating. Many elderly do not have air conditioning or may not utilize air conditioning because of their low income status, etc. Some may not even be able to afford fans. If either is the case, you need to intervene with environmental changes such as relocating them to a cooler setting or providing them with air conditioning and/or fans. There are also fan/heat-relief programs available in many cities that provide the elderly with fans free of charge to help them deal with extreme heat conditions.
- Keep someone who has a chronic medical condition out of the heat as much as possible.
- Dress infants and children lightly, according to the weather. This way their bodies are able to sweat, and get rid of body heat quickly and properly. Excessive clothing only holds heat within, interfering with the cooling process of sweating. Also, make sure your children play outside later in the day to prevent scorching sun exposure.
- Drink plenty of fluids and remember that beverages that contain alcohol or high amounts of sugar cause you to lose more body fluids, resulting in dehydration. You should drink 4 glasses of water daily, a total of 64 ounces. If you are on a fluid restricted diet please check with your healthcare provider for guidance of your fluid intake during extreme hot weather.
It is important for all of us to protect our health during extreme hot weather conditions. I know that no one in their right mind purposely exposes themselves to extreme heat and I also know that lack of knowledge is responsible for many heat-related catastrophes. With temperatures rising you need to be aware of what’s accessible in your community to help you prevent a heat-related illness. Extreme heat conditions have hit their high in Nashville and to help prevent the development of heat-related conditions, there is both a Heat Exhaustion Resource Center and a Heatstroke Resource Center available for the community.
Resources are there for you and it’s your responsibility to reach out for any help you may need. Use your heat-safety knowledge and beat the heat! Why let a heat-related medical condition happen to you, your loved one, and/or your friends when it can be prevented?
Be proactive, not reactive………. Always think “preventive”!