What are the signs and symptoms of the different heat related illnesses?

Heat illness, or hyperthermia, occurs when body temperature rises to levels higher than normal. This typically happens when someone is outside in very hot or humid weather, for extended periods of time. It’s frequently seen in people who work in hot environments, or those who exercise outside. Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms that often occur when someone gets overheated. Heat exhaustion is a serious condition that can results in dizziness, weakness, nausea or vomiting, headaches, sweating and muscle aches. The most serious form of heat illness is heat stroke, which is a life threatening condition. With heat stroke the body temperature rises rapidly to 104 degrees or higher and the body’s heat-regulating mechanism breaks down. A person may stop sweating, become confused or disoriented, have seizures or become comatose. Heat stroke can cause damage to body organs such as the kidneys, heart, lungs, muscles, liver, intestines and brain.

What is the best way to prevent overheating when exercising or working outside in the heat?

Avoid activity in hot or humid weather. Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (typically between 12 – 6 pm). If working or exercising, do so in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler. If being in the sun is unavoidable, make sure to wear a hat and light-colored, loose fitting clothes. Drink plenty of water before, during and after outdoor activities. Take frequent breaks and cool off in an air conditioning at regular intervals, if possible.

What are the symptoms of dehydration?

heatsymptonsSymptoms of early or mild dehydration include:

Thirst, flushed face, dry or warm skin, small amounts of dark yellow urine, weakness, cramping in the arms and legs, headache, lack of energy, light headedness, dry mouth and dry tongue with thick saliva and sometimes confusion in older adults.

When dehydration is moderate to severe, other symptoms are: fainting (caused by low blood pressure), severe muscle spasms, convulsions, sunken eyes with few or no tears, lack of skin elasticity, fast and deep breathing, or not producing any urine.

Are sports drinks a good substitute for water?

Water is generally the best way to replace lost fluids, but if you’re exercising for more than 60 minutes, use a sports drink. Sports drinks can help maintain the body’s electrolyte balance and give you more energy because they contain carbohydrates. While there is some concern about the amount of sugar and calories in sports drinks, it is also important to remember that people, especially children, sometimes stay hydrated better with sports drinks. The reason being, if given a choice, people tend to drink more flavored sports drinks than just plain water.

How can you reduce someone’s temperature quickly?

If you suspect someone is suffering from heat illness, the first thing to do is get them out of the sun and into a cool place. Remove or loosen up clothing and cool the body using a fan, spray mist, or cool moist washcloth. If you can, place ice packs under the armpits and in the groin area, and in severe situations it may be necessary to put the person into a cool bath or ice water tub. Most importantly give the person plenty of cool fluids to drink. If you think someone is suffering from heat stroke, call 9-1-1 or take the person to the closest emergency room.


Dr. Steven Dennis


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