Understanding Heat Related Illnesses

8/9/2022

Experts state that prolonged or intense exposure to hot temperatures can cause heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke. As your body works to cool itself in warmer temperatures, blood rushes to the surface of your skin. As a result, less blood reaches your brain, muscles, and other organs. This can interfere with both your physical strength and your mental capacity, leading, in some cases, to serious danger.

Heat illness can strike anyone. But the elderly, obese persons, and chronic alcoholics are at greater risk, as are individuals taking certain drugs, such as antihistamines or antipsychotic medications. High humidity also increases the risk of heat illness because it interferes with the evaporation of sweat – your body’s way of cooling itself.

Heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke occur when your body cannot cool itself adequately. Each is slightly different than the other.

Heat cramps

The mildest form of heat illness is heat cramps.  They consist of painful muscle cramps and spasms that occur during or after exercise and sweating in hot temperatures. This, accompanied by the loss of nutrients such as potassium and magnesium, typically occurs during heavy exertion. 

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heat stroke. Individuals who have heart problems or are on low-sodium diets may be particularly susceptible to heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion can be treated by moving to a cool place to rest, placing a cool cloth directly on the skin, and by consuming sports drinks containing salt and sugar. If no improvement or unable to take fluids, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Heat stroke

The most severe form of heat illness. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s heat-regulating system is overwhelmed by excessive heat. It is a life-threatening emergency, Heat stroke occurs when the body suffers from long, intense exposure to heat and loses its ability to cool itself. In prolonged, extreme heat, the part of the brain normally regulating body temperature malfunctions. This decreases the body’s ability to sweat and cool down.

If you suspect heat stroke call 911 or your local emergency medical service.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  1. Warm, dry skin 
  2. High fever (Over 100° F) 
  3. Rapid heart rate 
  4. Nausea and vomiting 
  5. Headache and fatigue

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