The following self-help information about heat-related illnesses is not a substitute for medical care but can help you recognize and respond promptly to warning signs. Your best defense against heat-related illnesses is prevention. Staying cool and making simple changes in your fluid intake, activities, and clothing during hot weather can help you remain safe and healthy.
Even short periods of high temperatures can cause serious health problems. Doing too much on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses. Know the symptoms of heat disorders and overexposure to the sun, and be ready to give first aid treatment.
Heat Exhaustion Information
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness caused by excessive fluid loss due to sweating, resulting in the depletion of body fluid volume. Heat exhaustion can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.
The initial sign of heat exhaustion is when dehydration occurs. You usually have a rapid pulse rate prior to passing out. This is due to your heart trying to pump enough blood to your brain. After your heart is unsuccessful, you will pass out. You will now have a slow and thready pulse. Other signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include gradual weakness, nausea, anxiety, and possible passing out. Skin is usually pale and clammy or cold, pulse slows and blood pressure may drop. The victim may complain of weakness. Excessive sweating, as opposed to the dry skin in heat stroke, is a common symptom of heat exhaustion. Following these symptoms, the victim may appear to be in shock. Temperatures may range from 100-104 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is difficult to differentiate heat exhaustion from other diagnoses like insulin shock or traumatic shock. If you are outdoors, the environment is hot, and a companion without a history of diabetes should develop the above symptoms, it is somewhat easier to make the diagnosis. The prognosis is very good in heat exhaustion as opposed to heat stroke.
Outdoor Treatment of Heat Exhaustion
It is important to first remove the individual from direct sunlight and into a shaded area. The victim should be laid flat, or with their head lower than their feet. Begin to replace fluids orally, in small amounts. It is important not to push fluids too much, to avoid fluid overload.
If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. Seek medical attention immediately if the symptoms are severe or the victim has heart problems or high blood pressure. Seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than 1 hour.
Heat Stroke Information
Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Without being properly hydrated or without the proper clothing, heat stroke can develop. The risk is greater in high humidity because heat loss occurs less efficiently. Other factors that contribute are age, being overweight, and also alcohol consumption. Another contributing factor may be drug use, as many different types of drugs, antihistamines for example, can also increase the susceptibility to heat stroke.
Heat stroke or sunstroke usually has a quick onset and this is usually preceded by headache and fatigue. The ability to sweat rapidly decreases and the skin becomes hot, flushed and very dry. Pulse is usually very rapid and can reach anywhere from 100-160 beats per minute. Disorientation is not uncommon and frequently happens before a loss of consciousness. Fever can rise to 106 degrees or higher within 10 to 15 minutes, and brain damage is not uncommon. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
If while in a very hot environment you or your partner experiences sudden onset of hot, dry skin and rapid pulse, this can be a life-threatening situation and emergency treatment should immediately be sought.
Outdoor Treatment of Heat Stroke
Heat stroke treatment should include rapid cooling, e.g. immersion in cool water or ice, removal and immersion of clothing in water, redressing the victim and fanning repeatedly. If the patient starts to shiver, the cooling process should be slowed, as shivering increases the core temperature of the body. If possible, the temperature should be taken approximately every 10 minutes to avoid a continued temperature drop, which could result in hypothermia. Do not give the victim fluids to drink. Sometimes a victim’s muscles will begin to twitch uncontrollably as a result of heat stroke. If this happens, keep the victim from injuring himself, but do not place any object in the mouth and do not give fluids. If there is vomiting, make sure the airway remains open by turning the victim on his or her side.
This is a critical medical emergency and the victim should be transported immediately to a hospital.