Know the Signs of Heat Exhaustion

If you were to experience heat exhaustion or heat stroke, would you recognize the signs? I think it’s safe to say it’s already been a very hot and humid summer across our nation and now the “dog days” of summer are upon us. Many of us don’t pay attention to the heat and humidity when working outside, including yours truly. The other day I was out working in the yard and began to feel ill. After a while I decided to shut it down and head inside. Looking back, I’m convinced that what I experienced was an episode of heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures and is often accompanied by dehydration. Heat exhaustion is strongly related to the heat index, which is a measurement of how hot you feel when the effects of relative humidity and air temperature are combined. A relative humidity of 60 percent or more hampers sweat evaporation, which limits your body’s ability to cool itself. The risk of heat-related illness dramatically increases when the heat index climbs to 90 degrees or more. So it’s important, especially during heat waves, to pay attention to the reported heat index and to remember that the heat index is even higher when you are standing in full sunshine.

If you find yourself outside on a hot, humid day, it’s important to know the signs of heat exhaustion, and how to respond.  Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke if not identified and treated. Heat stroke is significantly more serious than heat exhaustion, as it can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs, or even death.

There are two types of heat exhaustion:

  • Water depletion – signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness
  • Salt depletion – signs include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness

Common signs and symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle or abdominal cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting , or diarrhea
  • Pale skin
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat

Treatment for Heat Exhaustion

If you or anyone else show symptoms of heat exhaustion, it’s essential to immediately get out of the heat and rest, preferably in an air-conditioned room. If you can’t get inside, try to find the nearest cool and shady place.

Other recommended strategies include:

  • Drink plenty of fluid (avoid caffeine and alcohol)
  • Remove any tight or unnecessary clothing
  • Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath
  • Apply other cooling tactics such as fans or ice towels

If such measures fail to provide relief within 15 minutes, seek emergency medical help; remember, untreated heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke. After you’ve recovered from heat exhaustion, you’ll probably be more sensitive to high temperatures during the following week. It’s best to avoid hot weather and heavy exercise until your doctor tells you that it’s safe to resume your normal activities. Be careful out there and remember, children and pets are particularly susceptible to heat-related illnesses so pay close attention to the signs and symptoms they may be displaying.


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