Summer Is Great For Outdoor Activities, But Not So Great When Those Activities Lead To A Heat-Related Illness

Posted on: 27 July 2016

It's summer in the United States, a time when people like to get out and enjoy the warm-weather activities that aren't so popular during the winter. But along with the heat comes the danger of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Although these two conditions are similar, there are some crucial differences. Here's what you need to know to help prevent, diagnose, and treat these conditions.

What's the Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke?

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are part of a continuum of heat-related illnesses that also include heat rash and heat cramps. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the most serious of those illnesses and occur when your body can't keep itself cool. It can be caused by hot weather, dehydration, and physical exertion. Just as the names imply, the conditions are characterized by signs of physical exhaustion. A person with heat exhaustion may have fatigue, weakness, and confusion as well as heat cramps, a rash, dizziness, profuse sweating, nausea, and headaches. If measures are not taken to halt the progression of the heat exhaustion, it will lead to heat stroke, a much more serious condition.

A person's normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat stroke occurs when an individual's body temperature reaches 104 degrees. Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition and needs prompt attention. Symptoms that indicate that heat exhaustion has turned into heat stroke include

  • Lack of perspiration
  • Severe headaches
  • A fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Rapid respiration and heart rate
  • Seizures

If left untreated, heatstroke can quickly damage a person's brain, nervous system, muscles, heart, and kidneys. Without mitigation and treatment, it can prove fatal.

How Can You Reduce the Chances of Developing Heat-Related Illnesses?

Enjoying warm-weather activities is healthy, until the activities become hot-weather activities, which can become not so healthy. However, there are precautions you can take to help reduce the chances of a serious heat-related illness.

  • Avoid strenuous activity when the temperature is extremely hot.
  • Don't overdress or cover up your exposed skin, as this can increase body temperature and prevent sweat evaporation and cooling.
  • Drink plenty of fluid to prevent dehydration.
  • Avoid alcohol, which promotes dehydration.
  • Get out of the heat when you start feeling overheated, dizzy, or nauseous.

What Can You Do to Treat Heat-Induced Illness?

When you suspect someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, get them out of the heat and into a cooler place such as a shady place or air-conditioned structure, remove excess clothing, and get them to drink a cool beverage (other than alcohol). If they seem to be in distress, apply ice packs to their neck, back, and arm pits, and take them to their doctor, a walk-in clinic, or an urgent-care facility for assistance. The professionals there will monitor their body temperature and provide fluids and treatments to cool the body and support internal systems.

If a person is showing the symptoms of heatstroke, this is a medical emergency and the time to call 911.