Recognizing and Treating Heat Related Illnesses

Heat related illness can strike anyone at any time and is caused when the body’s temperature gets too high for too long.  It usually happens when the body is exposed to high temperatures for a long period of time or a person is participating in high intensity activities during hot weather.  Falling victim to heat related illness is serious and can lead to death if not properly treated.

All heat related illnesses occur when the body struggles to cool itself down.  While there are similarities between heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke, there are also some key differences.

If you are hiking with kids, especially young kids, keep an eye on them as they may not be able to vocalize what they are feeling.  Babies, young children, and older adults can be especially susceptible to heat related illness.  As well as, those on certain medications, with some health conditions, or who use alcohol.

Heat Cramps

What are heat cramps?

Heat cramps are muscle spasms caused by strenuous activity in a hot environment, especially, when the body is dehydrated and/or lacking electrolytes.  Drinking too much water without eating salty snacks can flush salt from the body increasing your risk.

  • Painful muscle spasms that come and go
  • Rest in a cool area
  • Drink sports drinks with electrolytes/salt
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Heat Exhaustion

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is most typically caused by long exposure to high temperatures coupled with dehydration and/or loss of salt.  Heat exhaustion needs to be treated immediately to prevent progression to heat stroke.

  • Excessive sweating
  • Wet, cool skin with goose bumps while in the heat
  • Faint feeling
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Stomach Upset (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Get out of the heat as soon as possible and cool the body
    • Get into air conditioning
    • Find a cool and shady place
    • Immerse in cold water
    • Apply ice packs, etc
  • Remove any extra clothes
  • Drink plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated)
  • Eat salty snacks and/or drink energy drinks to replace electrolytes

Heat Stroke

What is heat stroke?

Heat Stroke is caused by over exposure to high temperatures for a long period of time or heavy physical exertion at high temperatures.  It is the most dangerous of the heat related illnesses often stemming from heat cramps or heat exhaustion and is diagnosed when the body’s temperature is greater than 104F.

Heat stroke can be life threatening.  If you suspect you or someone you know has heat stroke get to a cool place and get help immediately.

  • Temperature greater than 104F
  • Skin feels hot and may be dry to touch especially if hot weather is the culprit
  • Skin has a reddish or “flushed” look
  • Severe Headache
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Stomach Upset (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Change in mental function
    • Confusion
    • Irritability             
    • Seizures             
    • Loss of consciousness or coma
  • Get medical help immediately
  • Cool the body as quickly as possible while waiting for medical help:
    • Get out of the heat immediately
    • Get into air conditioning
    • Find a cool and shady place
    • Remove any extra clothes
    • Immerse body in cold water
    • Sponge cold water and fan the body
    • Wet the head, armpits, and groin areas where the body retains heat
    • Apply ice packs, etc
Moonshine Wash Geological Feature

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