These past couple of months have been rough as far as heat goes, with long stretches of triple digit days that have spanned the entire country. Hopefully we’re getting to the end of it, but at least in Northern California we won’t see “cool” days for a while. One of the biggest concerns when the weather is so hot is heat related illnesses. What is the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke? And what can you do to avoid them?
In this post I’ll cover what heat stroke and heat exhaustion are, what the differences are between them, how to avoid, and what to do if you think you or someone else has either.
When I think about heat related illnesses, especially this time of year- late summer into fall- I think of the high school athletes playing football or running cross country. If you have a kid in an outdoor sport this time of year, this post is for you!
Let’s dive in!
Heat Exhaustion happens when your body overheats and is unable to regulate your core temperature. It occurs when it’s hot outside (obviously) and is exacerbated by physical activity or humidity. Our bodies use sweat as a way to cool down, but sometimes it can’t keep up.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy Sweating
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- muscle cramps
- low blood pressure when you stand- If you get really light headed, dizzy, see stars, or even pass out when you stand suddenly
Heat Cramps are actually another form of heat illness, and the most mild. In order of severity it goes, Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and then most severe and life threatening is Heat Stroke. So if you are someone you are around is experiencing heat cramps, it is time to take action.
Steps to Take to Avoid Heat Exhaustion
- Avoid strenuous actives during peak heat hours
- Wear light, loose fitting clothes. Or clothes that help wick moisture away.
- Let your body acclimate. If you are new to an area that is especially hot or humid, take it easy for a few weeks and let your body get used to the new climate.
- HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE! Water is always a great choice, but if you are going to be doing any strenuous activity (or your child has practice in the heat) a drink with electrolytes or a sports drink is a better choice. I am personally a big fan of Liquid IV, and now it comes in a sugar free version too, if you have a Costco membership, you really can’t be their price. I’ve also used DripDrop and I like that one a lot as well, and it has less sugar than the regular version of the Liquid IV.
- NEVER NEVER NEVER leave someone (or an animal) in a parked car on a hot or even warm day. Even if you have the windows cracked or it’s in the shade. It can get dangerously hot fast! This is the cause of a lot of heat related deaths, especially in children.
Treatment for Heat Exhaustion
It is important to act if you think you have heat exhaustion or if you think someone you are around does, as it a progress to heat stroke which is life threatening.
If you are helping someone you suspect has heat exhaustion, the first thing to do is get them out of the heat, preferably into air conditioning. And then cool the person off, a good way to do this is by placing cool towels or cold packs to their head, back of neck, armpits and groin. These stay cool towels are a great thing to keep on hand, especially for outdoor sports or activities. All you have to do is get them wet and they will cool you off quick, and to refresh them you just have to re-wet. Focus on hydration! Encourage fluids, in this case a sports drink or electrolyte drink is best, but if water is the only thing available that is good too.
If the person does not improve within an hour, or gets worse they need to be seen by a doctor.
Heat stroke is similar to heat exhaustion, but the symptoms are more severe and it is life threatening. It is the most severe heat illness, and occurs when the body can no longer regulate its temperature, the person’s temperature rises rapidly (as high as 106 within 15 minutes!), the person is no longer sweating, and the body is unable to cool itself down.
- The person is confused, or has an altered mental status, meaning they aren’t acting normal. It can almost seem like the person is drunk, or isn’t making any sense. Their speech can be slurred as well.
- The person is unresponsive or has a loss of consciousness
- Hot dry skin or very profuse sweating
- Very high body temperature
- Call 911!
- Move the person to an air-conditioned area, or at least the shade
- Do NOT leave the person!
- Remove clothing
- Cool the person down quickly.
- Soak the person with cool water (or place in a ice bath if possible)
- Wet the skin
- Place cold wet cloths on skin
- Place cold wet cloths to head, back of neck, armpits, and groin
- Or if person is still dressed soak their clothing with cool water
If untreated heat stroke can lead to death or permanent injury. It needs to be taken VERY seriously.
Obviously the best treatment for heat stroke is to avoid it all together. Prevention is the same as the prevention for heat exhaustion. HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE! Avoid strenuous outdoor activities during the peak times of the day. And early recognition, if you suspect someone (or yourself is starting to get heat cramps, stop the activity, hydrate and cool down.
Key Take Aways
If you take one thing away from this, let it be stay hydrated!! Lots of water and electrolyte drinks. And the other thing is to just be aware, if you feel like you are overheating or see someone you think is, don’t try to tough it out. Take a break and cool down.
Thanks for being here! Stay safe this summer!
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