Heat Exhaustion – Stay Safe This Summer

BY: Mike Andrews, PTA, BS, CEAS, Center Manager of Strawberry Plains, TN Center

Most of us couldn’t wait for summer to arrive.  But it’s important to know how high temperatures can affect our bodies.  One heat-related illness we should be aware of is heat exhaustion, which can develop after a few to several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.

The most prone to heat exhaustion are the elderly, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.

The warning signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, fatigue, muscle weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, and fainting.
  • The skin may be cool and moist.
  • Heart rate will increase but may be weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow.

If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke, which is a medical emergency.

As with most things, prevention is the best way to ensure heat exhaustion does not occur.  Staying hydrated is essential, and water is your best bet for staying hydrated.

Drinking plenty of water prior to and during participation in work or play in a hot environment helps to ensure that the body is adequately hydrated.

Certain fluids, however, should be avoided and not considered as alternative forms of hydration: alcoholic beverages, tea and coffee actually dehydrate the body.  Most energy drinks contain high levels of sugar and/or caffeine, which can inhibit the body’s ability to “cool down.”  Fluid replacement beverages such as Gatorade, PowerAde and others replenish the fluids after an athletic event or hard day of work outdoors, but they do little to hydrate the body beforehand.

Most of these drinks contain sugar, sodium, and electrolytes, which will help replenish what’s lost in perspiration.

If heat exhaustion occurs:

  • First, remove the person from the heat, even if it’s only moving them into shade.
  • Encourage a period of rest until symptoms subside.
  • Give them small amounts of cool, non-alcoholic fluids but do not allow “gulping” large amounts quickly.
  • A cool shower or sponge-bath may also serve as a cooling method.
  • As always, contact your physician if these symptoms continue or worsen.

Summer is a wonderful time of year full of daylight and fun times with family and friends.  Let’s do all we can to make it a safe time , too.


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