Summer brings with it a lot of outdoor activity, from beach trips to yard work and outdoor sports. While the warm weather is one of the best parts of the season, it can also be dangerous. If you are not careful to rest and rehydrate while enjoying your time outside, you could find yourself suffering from heat exhaustion. Here are the key facts you need to know.
What is heat exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion is a temporary medical condition caused by exposure to extreme heat. People often experience it in the high temperatures of summer, often while sweating or working hard without hydrating properly.
Though heat exhaustion is not as severe a condition as heat stroke, it should be taken seriously and treated immediately. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can develop into heatstroke, which can cause damage to the brain and vital organs. In extreme instances, it can even be fatal.
What causes heat exhaustion?
Under normal circumstances, your body maintains a core temperature of approximately 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, cooling itself by sweating in the heat. Heat exhaustion happens when your body becomes unable to cool itself sufficiently.
When you engage in strenuous exertion in extremely humid or hot weather, your body becomes less able to cool itself, and your core temperature can rise dangerously. Your body sweats more in an effort to cool itself, which causes you to lose salt and other important electrolytes. If you do not rehydrate and replenish your electrolytes, you can develop heat exhaustion as your body tries unsuccessfully to regulate its temperature.
Warning signs of heat exhaustion
Heat exhaustion comes with several warning signs due to the accompanying dehydration, drop in blood pressure, and loss of electrolytes. These include:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Cool, pale, or clammy skin with goosebumps
- Dizziness, especially after standing or changing position
- Severe headache (which also gets worse when changing position)
- Fatigue or weakness
- Dark urine, due to dehydration
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Sweating profusely
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
Treatment for heat exhaustion
If you develop symptoms of heat exhaustion, immediately remove yourself from the heat and rest. Go to the nearest cool place, such as a shady spot with good air circulation or inside an air-conditioned building, and sit down. Remove any tight and constricting clothing. It can also be helpful to put your head between your knees to help your blood pressure stabilize.
As your body cools, drink plenty of fluids, but be careful to avoid caffeine and alcohol (as these can make the problem worse). It is a good idea to drink or eat something containing salt and other electrolytes, such as coconut water or a banana. You can also use cool, moist cloths to help cool your body, spray yourself with water, or take a cool shower.
Under normal circumstances, you should begin to feel relief after a few minutes. If your symptoms do not improve within fifteen minutes, seek immediate medical help, as you could be in danger of heatstroke or other serious, heat-related conditions.
Even if you begin feeling better, it is important to continue resting in a cool location. You’ll likely be sensitive to high temperatures for four or five days after you recover from heat exhaustion, so avoid high temperatures and strenuous exercise during that time.