Heat-Related Illnesses

There are three different stages of heat-related illness. The first stage is heat cramps. This is usually the first sign of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. There is no certain cause for heat cramps; however, it is believed that they are caused by a deficiency in electrolytes. The second stage is heat exhaustion. Normal body temperature is 98.6 and the body’s temperature is generally regulated through sweating. If you exercise or work in hot, humid weather your body is less able to cool itself efficiently which could ultimately be leading to heat exhaustion. The third stage is heat stroke. There are two different types of heat stroke: non-exertion and exertion. The non-exertion version is most often seen in older people. It is caused by exposure to high-temperature environments which causes the body temperature to rise. This usually occurs when exposed to hot humid weather for prolonged periods of time. The exertion version is caused by an increase in body temperature due to strenuous physical activity. Exercising or working in a hot environment can cause this form of heat stroke, particularly if the body is not used to the high temperatures.

  • Heat Cramps
  • Symptoms
    • Painful muscle cramps
    • Can occur while exercising or working in a hot environment
    • Usually involves muscles that are fatigued by heavy work (calves, thighs, shoulders)
  • Risk Factors
    • Age – infants, children and the elderly are considered high risk
    • Alcoholism
    • Working or living in a hot environment
    • Certain medications
    • Drug abuse
  • Treatment
    • Rehydrating with fluids like water, sports drinks or anything that contains electrolytes either by mouth or IV
    • Avoiding strenuous work or exercise in a hot environment
    • Staying hydrated
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Symptoms
    • Fainting or dizziness
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Heavy sweating often accompanied by cold clammy skin
    • Weak rapid pulse
    • Pale or flushed skin
    • Muscle cramps
    • Headache
    • Confusion
    • Dark colored urine (sign of dehydration)
    • Fatigue
    • Rapid heart beat
  • Risk factors
    • Hot weather
    • Strenuous activity
    • Dehydration, reducing the body’s ability to sweat and maintain normal body temperature
    • Young age – infants and children under four because their body’s ability to regulate temperature is not fully developed yet
    • Adults older than 65 – their body’s ability to regulate temperature may be reduced by illness or medication
    • Certain medications can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature
    • Obesity – having excess weight can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperatures and the extra weight can cause the body to retain extra heat
    • Sudden temperature change if the body is not used to the heat
    • High Heat Index – The heat index is a single temperature value that takes into consideration how both the outdoor temperature and humidity can affect the body. When the humidity is high, the body’s sweat cannot evaporate so it cannot cool itself. A heat index of 91°F or greater is cause for concern.
  • Treatment
    • Immediately move the person to a cool location like under shade or in a cool building
    • If you cannot get person to cool location, try using a heat stress safety vest
    • Have the individual lie down with their legs elevated above the heart
    • The cooling process can be aided by misting the skin with cool water and moving air with fans
    • Have person drink lots of fluids or sports drinks with electrolytes
  • Heat Stroke
  • Symptoms
    • High body temperature above (104°F)
    • Altered mental state
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Flushed skin
    • Bad headache
    • No sweating despite heat
    • Rapid heart beat
    • Rapid and shallow breathing
    • Seizures
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Treatment
    • Get out of the heat quickly
    • Use a heat stress safety vest or cool towels or cool bath
    • Drink fluids, like water or sports drinks like Powerade or Gatorade
    • Get in front of a fan
    • Call 911

Methods to prevent and avoid heatstroke and heat exhaustion

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing
  • Wear a heat stress safety vest
  • Use sunscreen with SPF of 15 or greater
  • Drink lots of water
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Take breaks
  • Do not leave anyone in the car especially children and elderly
  • Get acclimated to the hot weather
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