When Heat Becomes Life-Threatening

Increased physical activity and prolonged exposure to the sun during hot, humid weather can bring on heatstroke. a dangerous condition in which the body is unable to cool itself. Heat exhaustion is a condition in which the body becomes dehydrated.

How heatstroke affects the body:

  • Sweat evaporating from the skin cools the body.  When it is humid it is harder to cool off because moisture in the air prevents sweat from evaporating as much.
  • When blood temperature rises, the hypothalamus sends signals to stimulate sweat glands, dilate blood vessels and increase heart rate.
  • Increased blood flow to the skin cools the body by radiating heat.
  • Excessive sweating can deplete fluid and salts.  If fluids are not replaced, heat remains in the blood and organs slowly break down, usually resulting in death.

How to recognize and treat heat-induced illnesses:

HOW IT STARTS

Heat Exhaustion: Insufficient water and salt intake are the primary causes.  Faintness, dizziness and fatigue are usually the first signs

Heatstroke: Heat exhaustion, if untreated can develop into heatstroke as heat builds up in the body. People who aren’t treated can quickly die

SKIN

Heat Exhaustion: Usually cold and clammy with heavy sweating

Heatstroke: Hot, dry and red.  Perspiration usually stops completely.

PULSE

Heat Exhaustion: Rapid and weak

Heatstroke: Rapid and strong

BODY TEMPERATURE

Heat Exhaustion: Usually low or normal

Heatstroke: Above 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius).  At 107 degrees Fahrenheit (41.7 degrees Celsius) usually is fatal

OTHER SYMPTOMS

Heat Exhaustion: Thirst, giddiness, weakness and lack of coordination

Heatstroke: Fainting or staggering, confusion or delirium

TREATMENT

Heat Exhaustion: Lie down in a cool, shady place. Loosen clothing.  Sip water (unless nauseated).  Seek medical attention immediately if vomiting occurs.

Heatstroke: Seek medical attention immediately.  Move to a cool place.  Remove clothing. Apply a wet sheet or immerse in cool water.

See also:

Sources: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine, Complete Guide to Sports Injuries. This information was published in The Gleaner on 7/16/2019