How to Prevent, Recognize and Treat Heat Illnesses


While there are few conditions that arise from prolonged heat exposure and overheating, they are worth addressing. All are serious and potentially dangerous, and one can even be life threatening.
It is a known fact that climate change is happening, and it's happening a lot faster than experts had predicted. Just this last year there have been thousands of heat records broken all over the globe. Knowing how to protect yourself from the heat and overheating conditions is as important as recognizing the signs and symptoms of heat-borne illnesses.

When I was a young Marine officer training in the woods of Quantico, Virginia, the heat and humidity often reached into the 90s. The Marine Corps expects its officers to be able to function in extreme conditions; doing so in the heat is a challenge. To safeguard against becoming a heat casualty we were expected to stay fully hydrated at all times. However, even this may not protect you from the dangers of heat conditions. If any one of us were to suffer from confusion, nausea, lightheadedness, or unconsciousness while training, we would be immediately stripped naked, placed into a cooling tub, and treated by paramedics en route to the hospital.

Our body works hard to self-regulate and cool itself; when this system gets taxed, we literally “feel the heat”.  Sweating is the body’s form of air-conditioning. Through expiration, our skin cools itself. The source of one's sweat is our body’s own salt and water supply. By drinking water frequently, we can keep our bodies’ air-conditioning system full. Covering the high-heat exposed areas of your body also cools your skin; in turn, your body reduces the load on your sweat production. Using hats and light clothing that allow air to circulate can also help cool your body. While sunscreens can help protect you from sunburns, they will not protect you from heat illnesses.

Often, however, the combination of extremely high heat and humidity means your body’s ability to cool itself becomes compromised. If left unchecked, your body will begin to show signs and symptoms of heat illness and sometimes develop into full blown heat stroke, which can be fatal.

Please read the following from the CDC website. This will help you safeguard yourself and loved ones while you enjoy the summer wherever you are in the world!

“In extremely hot and humid weather, your body's ability to cool itself is challenged. When the body heats too rapidly and fails to cool itself properly, or when too much fluid or salt is lost through dehydration or sweating, body temperature rises and you or someone you care about may experience a heat-related illness. It is important to know the symptoms of excessive heat exposure and the appropriate responses.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a list of warning signs and symptoms of heat illness and recommended first aid steps. Some of these symptoms and steps are listed below.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps may be the first sign of heat-related illness and may lead to heat exhaustion or stroke.
Symptoms: Painful muscle cramps and spasms usually in legs and abdomen and Heavy sweating.
First Aid: Apply firm pressure on cramping muscles or gently massage to relieve spasm. Give sips of water unless the person complains of nausea, then stop giving water.
Seek immediate medical attention if cramps last longer than 1 hour.

Heat Exhaustion

Symptoms: Heavy sweating, Weakness or tiredness, cool, pale, clammy skin; fast, weak pulse, muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, headache, fainting,
First Aid: Move person to a cooler environment, preferably a well air conditioned room. Loosen clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths or have person sit in a cool bath. Offer sips of water.  Seek immediate medical attention if the person vomits, symptoms worsen or last longer than 1 hour

Heat Stroke

Symptoms: Throbbing headache, confusion, nausea, dizziness, body temperature above 103°F, hot, red, dry or damp skin, rapid and strong pulse, fainting, loss of consciousness.
First Aid: Call 911 or get the victim to a hospital immediately. Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency. Delay can be fatal. Move the victim to a cooler, preferably air-conditioned, environment. Reduce body temperature with cool cloths or bath. Use fan if heat index temperatures are below the high 90s. A fan can make you hotter at higher temperatures. Do NOT give fluids.

Using a fan to blow air in someone’s direction may actually make them hotter if heat index temperatures are above the 90s.

For more information on all of these heat related illnesses, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site.


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