How to Identify Heat Exhaustion and What to Do About It

As summer wears on you tend to get used to working in the heat. If you aren’t careful and pay attention to what you are doing you can find yourself suffering from heat exhaustion or even continuing on into heat stroke.

Your body cools itself by sweating to put liquid (sweat) on your skin and allowing airflow to evaporate it and cool you down. When something interferes with this or you are heating beyond your body’s capacity to cool yourself down you run the risk of getting heat exhaustion.

Untreated it can turn into heat stroke and heat stroke can lead to organ damage and even death.

Two types of Heat Exhaustion

There are two types of heat exhaustion.

The first being dehydration.

This happens when you sweat and urinate out more fluids than you take in. It can be made worse by drinking caffeine or alcohol.

The second type is salt depletion.

Similar to the first type but it is the result of urinating a sweating out more minerals than you have been taking in. This type is usually associated with cramping.

As the name implies this all takes place during physical activity in a hot environment.

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

The first symptom of dehydration is usually excessive thirst. Other symptoms of dehydration will include weakness, dark urine, weakness and headache.

Salt depletion will show up as well as the previously mentioned cramps along with possible nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness.

Other symptoms of both kinds can include fainting, pale skin, profuse sweating, rapid heartbeat and loss of consciousness.

Heat Exhaustion

Certain medical conditions can make you more susceptible to heat exhaustion. If you are over 65 or over weight, have high blood pressure, sickle cell or diabetic you are at an increased risk for heat exhaustion. Medications for these conditions may also raise your risk. If you fall into any of these categories you will need to be extra vigilant watching for the symptoms.

Treating Heat Stroke

If you suspect you have heat exhaustion your priority should be to rehydrate and cool down.

Move into a cool room or at least find some shade to sit down in. Remove any clothing (especially any tight clothing) and drink plenty of fluids. If possible take a cool shower to speed up the cooling process.

If you have a thirst quencher like Gatorade or Powerade drink it as it will replace the minerals you have lost and help with the second type of heat exhaustion.

If you have not recovered within 15 to 20 minutes of this treatment it is time to seek professional help as you may have already slipped into heat stroke.
According to WebMD if you do recover from this heat exhaustion you will probably be more sensitive to the heat for the next few days, so you will need to watch for symptoms even more diligently.

Preventing Heat Stroke

Anytime the humidity exceeds 60% everyone is at a higher risk of heat exhaustion. There are several things you can do to reduce your risk.

When you know you are going to be working outdoors in the heat it is a good idea to drink 20 ounces of water a couple hours before you are set to start your outdoor work, then while you are actually working stay hydrated by drinking extra fluids during your workday.

You should dress for the heat. This would include light colored loose fitting clothing, along with a wide brimmed hat, to keep the sun off your head. The use of sunscreen will also help. A 30 spf sunscreen has become the standard recommended minimum.

The last thing is to avoid alcohol and caffeine. I know many would find a cold beer a refreshing break in hot weather, but too much alcohol will actually work against you.

The main thing to remember is that your body will work to keep you cool. Your job is to allow it to do its job the way it was designed. Stay hydrated so you have enough liquid to sweat out and keep your clothing light and loose enough so your sweat can evaporate and cool you down.

When working in hot weather stay aware of your environment and how your body is reacting to it, and if you see symptoms, start acting immediately to remedy the situation. If you stay on top of it you should have a safe, pleasant summer without any unforeseen trips to the emergency room.

Always have a supply of water handy in your car, home and bug out bag. We recommend having a 6-Pack of Water Pouches like these that have a 5-year shelf life and are easy to grab and go.

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2 thoughts on “How to Identify Heat Exhaustion and What to Do About It

  1. Kim Dunning

    Once you have had heat exhaustion or heat stroke, it seems like it comes on faster the next time. I worked for the post office delivering mail and always carried a water jug and stopped often to drink. Over the years it seemed like it took less exertion and less heat to bring on heat exhaustion. Which explains why I no longer work there. Even now many years later I have to limit outdoor exertion because it doesn’t take much for me to start experiencing the effects.

    Reply
  2. Keith Darby

    Hi Damien,
    Thanks for the timely warning, here in Panama it is very easy to overheat and the humidity is usually over 60% too. About a fortnight ago I spent 3 hours cutting long grass with a Strimmer (Weed whacker to you) and literally worked myself to a standstill. I barely had the strength to put my tools away! I never thought about heat exhaustion as being the reason. I did drink plenty of water after and rested and eventually recovered. I should have known better because in Singapore (similar climate) after playing sport until midnight when I woke up in the morning I could not move a muscle literally. My wife found a bucket and rolled me to the edge of the bed to urinate then she phoned the Doctor. When he came he asked me if I had been taking salt tablets and when I told him no he said I was stupid and that was the answer. I had complete heat exhaustion! An injection and some tablets he gave me soon got me moving again but I increased my salt and water uptake from then on. I had forgotten the lesson coming here!

    Reply

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