Fun fact: July 24th is historically the hottest day of the year in the U.S. (every state reaches 80+ somewhere). That means it’s crunch time to learn how to literally beat the heat, before it takes you down.
Heat Stroke vs. Heat Exhaustion
The term “heat stroke” is often misused casually, since it actually means the very serious condition that can cause brain and other organ damage. You really don’t want to let things get that far. Preventing, recognizing, and treating heat exhaustion (the precursor) is the real priority.
Merriam-Webster tells us that heat exhaustion is “a condition marked by weakness, nausea, dizziness, and profuse sweating that results from physical exertion in a hot environment—called also heat prostration.”
Essentially, it occurs when you’ve been exposed to high temperatures (and often prolonged exercise) and are no longer able to regulate your body temperature—namely, cool it down. Heavy sweating and a weak, rapid pulse may be the first signs you have a problem.
Two Types of Heat Exhaustion—And Their Signs
Dehydration is the prime culprit running hand-in-hand with heat exhaustion, but there are many other telltale symptoms that may present themselves quickly or over time.
- Water Depletion: weakness, headache, excessive thirst, and loss of consciousness (fainting)
- Salt Depletion: nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness
Preventing Heat Exhaustion
It seems obvious, and is: Drink water! A lot. Extra fluids are essential for combating heat exhaustion, especially if you’re doing anything active outdoors. Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more, and lightweight, loose-fitting clothes to make yourself more comfortable. Lastly, avoid alcoholic drinks or those with caffeine, as they can dehydrate you even more.
Note: Other factors like age, medications, and weight also come into play and make some more susceptible.
Watch the Heat Index
Air temperatures are certainly handy to know, but pay even closer attention to heat index numbers in weather reports. That indicates the addition of humidity as a factor, and how you feel when they’re combined. (Humidity that’s 60%+ hampers sweat evaporation, making it harder for you to cool your body.) You have to be especially wary of heat exhaustion when heat index numbers reach 90 or more.
Treating Heat Exhaustion
First: Get indoors, hopefully to AC! And if that’s not an option, find the shade, or your coolest place. Then:
- Stop moving and rest
- Drink cool water or a sports drink
- Remove tight clothes or unnecessary layers
- Apply cooling measures like fans or ice towels
- Take a cool shower or bath
If you’ve tried the above and are not feeling better within an hour, contact your doctor. Seek immediate medical help if your body temp reaches 104 F or higher.
Sources: Mayo Clinic, WebMD