Heat related illness is a disaster waiting to happen, and unfortunately, no one is safe from it (but some are more prone to fall, victim, than others.)
There are several different heat-related illnesses, but two in particular that are the most common: heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
The symptoms of heat-related illness can range from minor discomfort and dehydration…to death.
And it all starts with heat exhaustion.
Do you know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion, what steps to take in order to prevent this disaster or what you should do if you or a loved one falls victim?
Heat exhaustion comes in two forms: 1) salt depletion, where your body loses important salts by sweating and urination; and 2) water depletion, which is simply the medical jargon for dehydration.
When you get cramps, feel dizzy or nauseous, or when you’re vomiting, it means you are experiencing the salt depletion form of heat exhaustion. If you have a headache, feel weak, become very thirsty, or even lose consciousness, you are experiencing dehydration.
Do not take these signs lightly! Do not try to “power through.” Heat exhaustion can quickly lead to heat stroke, a much more serious and possibly deadly condition.
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms
Now that you know the signs, it’s time to know what it feels like to be inflicted with this heat-related illness.
You have heat exhaustion when your heart beats fast, you are sweating excessively, you feel very tired, you look pale, your muscles are cramping, you’re dizzy and/or vomiting or you feel like fainting and are confused.
How to Treat Heat Exhaustion?
If you notice the symptoms of heat exhaustion in yourself or somebody else, it is important to find shade or any cool place and rest there. If there is an air-conditioned room nearby, get in there.
You can also try to cool the body down by using a fan or ice towel or taking a sponge bath or shower. Take off the clothes that you don’t need or are too tight. Most importantly, drink lots of water. Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol.
If you don’t see or feel any improvement after 15 minutes, it’s time to look for medical help. The situation has to be treated like an emergency so that it will not turn into heat stroke.
After recovering from heat exhaustion you will be more vulnerable to heat so it is recommended to keep away from high temperatures and avoid rigorous exercise. Only your doctor will be able to say when you are ready to go back to the activities that you normally do.
What Factors Increase the Risk of Heat Exhaustion?
A risk factor is anything that can increase the possibility of getting a disease or sickness, in this case, heat exhaustion.
The heat index is an indicator that shows the level of discomfort as a result of the combined effect of humidity and air temperature. If the relative humidity is 60% or higher, your sweat will not evaporate as quickly as it should, making you trap the heat inside your body, when in normal range your body should be able to cool itself down.
When the heat index goes up to 90% or higher, there is a greater possibility that you will get a heat-related illness like heat exhaustion. So it is important to take note of the reported heat index, especially when there is a heat wave in your area. Bear in mind also that when you’re outdoors in the open, the index is even higher.
You are more likely to get heat stroke if you live in the city and the heat wave lasts for a long time. This is especially true when the air quality is poor (or polluted) and the atmospheric conditions are stagnant, which means there is no wind to move the heat away from your location. One phenomenon connected to heat wave is the “heat island effect,” where intense daytime heat is stored by concrete and asphalt and is slowly released at night.
Unexpected Risk Factors For Heat Exhaustion
Health: Specific health conditions, such as alcoholism, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease, hypertension, mental disorder, and sickle cell trait can exacerbate heat exhaustion. Other health conditions that cause fever are included as well. Of all these, diabetics have the highest risk of heat exhaustion and are more likely to visit the emergency room, hospital or even die from the heat-related illness. If you have diabetes, it is best to take the necessary precautions like the ones mentioned earlier when a heat wave strikes your town.
Age: The very young (0 to 4 years old) and very old folks (65 and older) take more time to adjust to extreme temperatures, and are much more vulnerable to heat exhaustion.
Medications: Heart and blood pressure medications, stimulants, tranquilizers, sedatives, diuretics as well as psych drugs, it is recommended to consult your doctor to find out if your ability to adjust to high heat is affected.
How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion?
The safest thing to do when the reported heat index is high is to stay indoors, particularly in a room, house or building with an air conditioner. But what if a disaster strikes or SHTF and you’re outdoors? Here are some solutions:
Drink more liquids. Do whatever you can to fight dehydration. Water or juice (fruit or vegetable) will suffice as long as you increase your intake. Heat exhaustion is caused by the loss of salts in the body, so it's a good idea to drink a sports drink in a heat wave.
Apply high SPF sunblock to protect yourself from the sun. Wear a wide brimmed hat. Wear clothing that is loose and light in weight as well as in color.
Get advice from your physician about what fluids to drink and how much to drink. You also need to talk about increasing fluid intake if you have fluid retention problems or are on a diet that restricts fluids. This also includes being an epileptic, or having a liver, kidney or heart problem.
Avoid drinking liquids that contain alcohol or caffeine as they release fluids and only make heat exhaustion worse.
Once heat exhaustion has set in, heat stroke isn't far off. Heat stroke is much more serious matter. Do you know what to do in case you or one of your loved ones falls victim to heat stroke?
Knowing what to do in this situation could just save a life.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 10, 2016, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.