As summer approaches and temperatures climb, do you know how to tell when you’ve had too much sun? It’s important to know how to stay comfortable and safe while enjoying all that the Willamette Valley has to offer. The last few summers have been scorchers – and knowing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses can be life-saving. Over 600 people a year die from extreme heat in the United States, and the heat is more likely to affect older adults, people with high blood pressure, and individuals who work outdoors or in a hot environment.
Read on to learn about the dangers of heatstroke and how to tell the difference between this potentially fatal condition and other heat-related illnesses.
Heat exhaustion vs. heatstroke
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to intense heat. It is a reaction to a rapid loss of water and salt through sweating. While serious, heat exhaustion is not life-threatening. Heatstroke is the most severe heat-related illness and requires emergency medical care. It can cause death or permanent disability without urgent care. Heatstroke happens when the body can no longer regulate its temperature – sweating stops, and the body can’t cool down.
Symptoms of heatstroke
Look for these troublesome symptoms of heatstroke:
- Dry skin that’s hot or red – heat stroke happens after sweating has stopped
- Confusion or disorientation
- Slurred or slowed speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Headache, dizziness, or nausea
- Temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- Fast, strong pulse
How to treat heatstroke
- Immediately call 911 – heat stroke is an emergency health situation.
- Do not leave the person alone until emergency workers arrive.
- Get the person to a cooler environment out of the sun.
- Use ice, cool cloths, or a cool bath to lower their temperature.
- Soak their clothing with cool water.
- Do not give them anything to drink.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion
If not treated, heat exhaustion can worsen. These are the signs and symptoms that a person might be experiencing heat exhaustion:
- Heavy sweating
- Skin that’s cold, clammy, or pale
- A pulse that’s weaker or faster than normal
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle cramps
- Fatigue or weakness
How to treat heat exhaustion
- As with heat stroke, move the person to a cooler environment.
- Help them loosen their clothes or change into dry ones.
- Place cool, wet cloths on their body or take a cool bath or shower.
- Get out of the sun and lie down.
- Sip (don’t gulp) water.
- Make sure the person gets evaluated by a medical professional, and do not leave them alone (in case symptoms worsen).
- Seek immediate medical attention if symptoms do intensify or last longer than an hour or if the person starts vomiting.
How to prevent heat-related illnesses
Follow these eight tips to stay safe when the temperature rises.
1. Drink plenty of water and other fluids. Consider an electrolyte replacement drink
if you will be outdoors for several hours or sweating heavily.
2. Avoid alcohol, which can speed up dehydration.
3. Take breaks from the sun and do your best to go outside early in the day or later.
4. Choose light-colored clothing and materials that wick sweat. Wear a hat to
deflect some of the sun.
5. Move to the coolest room of your home if you don’t have air conditioning. Use a
fan to circulate air. If you have two, set them up to create a cross-breeze.
6. Take a cool shower or bath before bedtime.
7. Store wet cloths in the freezer and use them on pulse points like the wrists and
8. Check in on friends, family members, and neighbors who don’t have AC, work
outside, or might be more vulnerable to the heat.
Learn how Santiam Hospital & Clinics are there for all your health care needs.