by Katherine Matutes, Ph.D.
Many people have heard the term heat exhaustion.
But did you know that there are actually three heat-related disorders to be aware of as the warmer summer days approach?
The mildest of the heat-related disorders, heat cramps, as the name implies, is accompanied by muscle cramps. The cause of heat cramps is unknown, but it often occurs during bouts of exercise in warm conditions that promote heavy sweating. Cramping is frequently the first warning sign that your body is too hot, not cooling effectively or is dehydrated. According to the Mayo Clinic, the best treatment for heat cramps is to stop activity, consume an electrolyte rich sports beverage or drink water and eat a food high in potassium, like a banana.
Symptoms of this more severe condition include nausea, dizziness, a severe headache, extreme fatigue, pale skin and profuse sweating. The American Red Cross first aid training manual recommends that victims of heat exhaustion be moved to a cool environment, offered cool non-caffeinated beverages, misted with cool water or wiped with cool moist towels to promote a reduction in the body temperature. Heat exhaustion victims also should be monitored closely for changes in their symptoms, because a shift from heat exhaustion to the life-threatening condition of heat stroke can occur very rapidly.
Because heat stroke is a medical emergency, victims should seek medical attention immediately. Heat stroke symptoms can include mental confusion and nausea. It’s important to note that heat stroke victims will no longer be sweating, and they’ll have a rapid pulse. Treatment includes getting advanced medical care immediately and cooling the body as quickly as possible by removing the victim from a hot environment, fanning them, placing ice packs on their groin and arm pits, misting them with cool water or offering them cool non-caffeinated beverages if they are able to drink.
The populations at highest risk for heat related emergencies include infants, children, the elderly and athletes exercising in hot, humid conditions.
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