Heat related conditions such as heat exhaustion, heat injury and heat stroke are common and have potentially deadly consequences. Symptoms can range from mild dehydration and feeling faint to catastrophic heat stroke causing swelling around the brain and organ failure. It is important to identify individuals that are at increased risk for heat injury and be able to recognize symptoms so that the condition can get treated early.
Who is at risk? Anyone who is exposed to hot, humid climates for a prolonged period are at risk of heat illness. Poor physical conditioning, obesity and baseline dehydration are also important risk factors. Certain medications such as decongestants, antihistamines, stimulants (medications used to treat ADHD), and some blood pressure medications can increase your risk as well.
What are signs and symptoms of heat illness? Symptoms range from mild to severe and may include the following: headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, weakness, fast heart rate, low blood pressure, profuse sweating, dehydration and fainting.
What can I do if I notice these symptoms in myself or someone else? The most important thing you can do if you recognize someone has heat illness is to get them into a cool environment and start taking the appropriate measures to cool down their body. With mild conditions, most people respond to rest, cooling and re-hydration. More serious conditions need emergent medical attention. Call 9-1-1 if the person is unresponsive, not breathing or having severe symptoms.
The best treatment is prevention. Talk to your loved ones about heat illness. Make sure you stay well hydrated and avoid prolonged heat exposure if you can. Take breaks in a cool environment and rest. Avoid excessive alcohol and medications that can increase your risk of heat illness.