Understanding heat-related illnesses

Understanding heat-related illnesses

Heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke can pose serious health risks, especially during the hot summer months," says Harinder P. Kaur, MD, Family Medicine physician at ARC Sendero Springs in Round Rock. "Recognizing the symptoms and taking preventive measures can help ensure your well-being while enjoying outdoor activities."

Common symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body loses excess amounts of water and salt, typically from sweating. On the other hand, heat stroke is a serious medical emergency that occurs when your body is unable to control its internal temperature. It's important to remember that heat exhaustion and heat stroke fall on a spectrum ranging from relatively mild to severe and life-threatening emergencies.

Heat exhaustion:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Cool, moist skin

Heat stroke:

  • High body temperature (above 103°F)
  • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

If left untreated, heat exhaustion can escalate to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

How to avoid heat-related illnesses

  1. Remember to hydrate: Staying hydrated is crucial in preventing heat-related illnesses. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially when spending time outdoors. Avoid beverages that can dehydrate you, such as alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
  2. Get used to the heat: Gradually acclimatizing to hot weather can help your body adjust to higher temperatures. Start with short periods of outdoor activity and slowly increase the duration over a week or two.
  3. Wear the right clothing: Choose lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing to help your body stay cool. A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses can provide additional protection from the sun.
  4. Enjoy outdoor activities during cooler hours: Plan your outdoor activities for the early morning or late evening when temperatures are lower. Avoid strenuous activities during the peak heat of the day, typically between 10am and 4pm.
  5. Use sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to all exposed skin. Reapply every two hours, or more often if you're sweating or swimming, to protect against sunburn, which can hinder your body's ability to cool down.
  6. Rest if you're sick or exhausted: If you're feeling unwell or fatigued, take it easy. Your body is more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses when it's already stressed.

How to recover from heat stroke or heat exhaustion

Immediate steps:

  • Move to a cooler environment: Find a shaded or air-conditioned place.
  • Hydrate: Drink cool water or an electrolyte-replenishing drink. Avoid sugary, caffeinated, or alcoholic beverages.
  • Cool down: Apply cool, wet cloths to your skin, take a cool shower, or use a fan. For heat stroke, immerse yourself in a cool bath if possible.
  • Rest: Lie down and elevate your feet to promote blood flow. Avoid physical exertion until you have fully recovered.

Seeking medical attention: If you or someone else is experiencing symptoms of heat stroke, such as confusion, unconsciousness, or an inability to hydrate, seek emergency medical assistance immediately. Heat stroke can cause damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles if not treated promptly.

By recognizing the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, taking preventive measures, and knowing how to respond in case of an emergency, you can safely enjoy outdoor activities even in hot weather. "Your health and safety come first, so take care to protect yourself and others from the dangers of heat-related illnesses," says Dr. Kaur.

Test your knowledge of heat-related illnesses with this quick quiz.

Make an appointment today

ARC Family Medicine primary care doctors and APCs focus on the diagnosis and treatment of most general illnesses and injuries, providing the most up-to-date diagnostic and treatment options available for patients of all ages.

Dr. Kaur is accepting new patients of all ages at ARC Sendero Springs in Round Rock. To make an appointment, call 737-220-7500 or schedule online through MyChart or ARC Help Me Book.

Tags: Heat Illness, Heat Stroke, Heat Exhaustion