Know the Symptoms and Treatments for Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
Stage 1: Heat Cramps
Heat cramps are muscle spasms that wrack the body when it has lost large amounts of salt and water through exercise.
Cramps occur in the abdomen, arms, and calves.
- Rest in the shade
- Drink fluids like water and electrolyte drinks
- Once the cramps subside, hold off returning to play or activity in the heat for a few hours
Stage 2: Heat exhaustion
According to WebMd, There are two types of heat exhaustion:
- Water depletion, which can include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness
- Salt depletion: includes nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness
Although heat exhaustion isn’t as serious as heatstroke, without proper intervention, it can become heatstroke.
- Cool, moist skin with goose bumps in the heat
- Heavy sweating
- Weak pulse
- Faintness, dizziness
- Muscle cramps
- Dark urine (from dehydration)
- Move to a shady place or an air-conditioned room
- Drink fluids like water or sport drinks (avoid caffeine and alcohol)
- Remove any tight or extra clothing
- Take a cool shower or bath
- Use fans or ice towels
If these treatments do not provide relief within 15 minutes, seek medical help. After recovery, the patient may be more sensitive to heat for a short period.
Stage 3: Heatstroke
Heatstroke, AKA sunstroke, AKA hyperthermia is caused by your body heating to a core temperature of 104 degrees F or higher. This can be caused by prolonged exposure to heat or physical exertion in high temperatures. Heatstroke causes your brain or other vital organs to swell, which could cause permanent damage or death.
Heatstroke symptoms include:
- Body temperature above 104 degrees
- Reduced sweating: skin can feel hot and dry After exercise skin may feel dry or slightly damp
- Rapid heart beat
- Confusion, slurred speech, irritability
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Flushed skin
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Muscle weakness or cramps
Heatstroke can occur as a result of:
- Excess clothing that prevents sweat from evaporating to cool your body
- Drinking alcohol, which can hinder the body’s ability to regulate temperature
- Dehydration due to fluids lost through sweating
Several factors increase your heatstroke risk:
- Adults over 65 and children up to age 4 are more at risk for heatstroke, because their central nervous systems are not fully functional
- Sudden exposure or exertion in hot weather
- Humidity of 60% or more hinders sweat evaporation, which compromises the body’s ability to cool itself
- Inability to get out of the heat. Fans help, but air conditioning is the most effective way to cool air and reduce humidity
- Chronic health conditions or obesity
- Medications. Be especially careful in hot weather if you take:
- Vasoconstrictors – narrow blood vessels
- Beta blockers – regulate blood pressure by blocking adrenaline
- Diuretics – reduce sodium and water
- Antidepressants or antipsychotics
Check with your doctor to see if health conditions and medications can affect your susceptibility to heat illnesses.
If you suspect someone has heatstroke, call 911 or transport the person to a hospital. Any delay seeking medical help can be fatal.
While waiting for emergency service, cool the overheated person by:
- Get them into shade
- removing unnecessary clothing
- Cool the person
- Put in a cool (NOT COLD) tub of water or a cool shower
- Spray with a garden hose
- Sponge with cool water
- Fan and mist with cool water
- Place ice packs or cool, wet towels on the forehead, armpits, neck, and groin – the arteries – to increase cool temperatures at their core
- DO NOT take fever reducing medications like Tylenol
If emergency response is delayed, call the emergency room for additional instructions.
If you must go outdoors on a hot day, you can prevent heatstroke by taking these steps:
- Wear lightweight,loose-fitting, light-colored, clothing, and a brim hat
- Use sunscreen with SPF of 30+
- Drink extra fluids – sports beverages or fruit juice – to replace salt and other electrolytes
- Avoid fluids containing caffeine or alcohol
- Reschedule outdoor activities to early morning or after sunset
- Monitor urine. Dark urine is a sign of dehydration
- Stay in contact with friends and family
- Know the cooling centers in your area.
During a heat wave, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that seniors living alone be visited at least twice daily and monitored closely for signs of heatstroke or exhaustion.
For more information, visit the CDC website.