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Heat Exhaustion

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Heat exhaustion definition and facts

  • Heat exhaustion is one part of the spectrum of heat-related illnesses that begin with heat cramps, progresses to heat exhaustion, and finally to heat stroke.
  • The body cools itself by sweating and allowing that sweat to evaporate. This requires enough fluid in the body to make sweat, air circulating across the skin, and low enough air humidity to allow that sweat to evaporate.
  • Causes of heat exhaustion include activity in a hot environment that can overwhelm the body's ability to cool itself, causing heat-related symptoms, and living in a hot environment without adequate access to water for dehydration.
  • Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include
  • Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke when the body's temperature regulation fails. The person develops a change in mental status, becomes confused, lethargic and may have a seizure, the skin stops sweating, and the body temperature may exceed 106 F (41 C). This is a life-threatening condition and emergency medical attention is needed immediately.
  • First aid treatment for heat exhaustion includes recognizing the symptoms, stopping the activity, and moving to a cooler environment. Rehydration with water or a sports drink is the cornerstone of treatment for heat exhaustion.
  • Complications of heat exhaustion include nausea, vomiting, dehydration and muscle weakness. If the activity is not stopped and the person left in a hot environment, there can be progression of symptoms to heat stroke, a life threatening emergency.
  • Heat exhaustion can be prevented by being aware of your environment, especially on hot, humid days, and drink lots of fluids (no alcohol or caffeine).
  • Infants, children and the elderly are at risk because their bodies are less able to get rid of (dissipate) heat.
  • Infants and children are particularly at risk during hot weather. Never leave an infant, toddler, or child in the car when it is hot. An average of 38 children die each year after being trapped inside motor vehicles. When outside temperatures reach 80 F to 100 F (27 C to 38 C) the internal temperatures of vehicles parked in direct sunlight can reach up to 131 F to 172 F (55 C to 78 C). The inside of a vehicle with the windows rolled down two inches can reach 109 F (42.7 C) within 15 minutes.
  • Dogs and other pets also are at risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. They do not sweat through their skin and fur, but instead cool themselves by their foot pads, and panting and through their noses and mouths. Pet owners need to be aware of the environment and prevent prolonged exposure to heat, and provide adequate water to prevent dehydration. Never leave your pet in a vehicle when it is hot.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/1/2016


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