Hot thermometerby James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at the period between 1979 and 2003 and found that more people died from heatstroke than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. And most heatstroke deaths are so preventable.

In my last post, I suggested 10 ways to cope with the heat until you can get acclimated. That’s a good start to preventing heatstroke. But some of us are still going to get too hot. The youngest and oldest, the chronically ill, and those who work outside are especially at risk.

To Prevent Heatstroke, You Must …
Recognize Heat Exhaustion

The good news is heatstroke doesn’t just come out of the blue. It’s one problem in a spectrum of heat-related illnesses. First comes heat exhaustion. If you heed its warnings and do the right things, you can prevent what’s sure to follow otherwise—the potentially deadly heatstroke.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion are:

  • A sudden, massive increase in sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Extreme weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

Signs of heat exhaustion are:

  • Pale skin color
  • Goose bumps and skin that has become cool to the touch
  • A weak pulse
  • A pulse rate well below one hundred
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion

It is this risk of confusion that makes it very important you work with a partner so you can monitor each other.

To Prevent Heatstroke, You Must …
Halt the Exhaustion

Here’s what to do if you have those signs or symptoms:

  • Stop work immediately. Not when you get to a finishing place, not in a few minutes. Immediately. Your body generates heat with activity.
  • Find the coolest spot available, and lie down.
  • Drink water or a sports drink. You’re almost always dehydrated. The fluids will help cool you and help your circulation work more efficiently to cool you off.
  • Don’t drink caffeine. It’s a diuretic and can adversely affect your circulation.
  • Don’t drink high-sugar drinks. They’re harder to absorb.
  • Stay cool the rest of the day. As I explained in my hypothermia articles, our body functions best at 98.6, give or take a degree or two. When you develop heat exhaustion, your temperature regulators go haywire. Your body has lost the ability to cool itself and will only get hotter unless you externally cool off. Your core, where your vital organs reside, have heated to 102 or more. Your whole body needs time to cool because when your temperature gets to 103, you’re getting very close to the shutdown levels of heatstroke.

If that happens, it’s a medical emergency. I’ll give you suggestions on what to do about that in the next post.

Have any of you experienced heat exhaustion? What did you do? How did you feel?

Photo by CJ Sorg on Flickr.