Heat Exhaustion – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.

Heat Exhaustion Causes

At high temperatures, the body cools itself largely through evaporation of sweat.  When it is very humid, this mechanism does not work properly. The body loses a combination of fluids and salts (electrolytes). People with a serious chronic condition, particularly breathing or heart problems,  people with mobility problems, people who are physically active, like manual workers and sportsmen and women. Poor circulation. Heart, lung, and/or kidney disease. Not being able to sweat due to medicines, such as water pills and some used for mental illnesses.  Alcohol or drug use.  Any illness that causes weakness, fever, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Signs and symptoms

One of the body's most important methods of temperature regulation is perspiration. This process draws heat from inside, allowing it to be carried off by radiation or convection. Evaporation of the sweat furthers cooling, since this endothermic process draws yet more heat from the body. When the body becomes sufficiently dehydrated to prevent the production of sweat this avenue of heat reduction is closed. When the body is no longer capable of sweating core temperature begins to rise swiftly.

Fainting

Skin: may be cool and moist

Pulse rate: fast and weak

Breathing: fast and shallow

Heat Exhaustion Prevention:

The easiest way to avoid heat disorders is to drink fluids before, during and after exercise. The body's fluid needs vary with exertion, climate, humidity, terrain, and other factors. The new fluid recommendations say that runners should "obey your thirst" and drink when their mouth is dry and they feel the need to drink.

Treatment Options

Stay in cool or air-conditioned spaces when possible on hot days.

Drink more fluids than usual. Drinking enough fluids during exercise, for example, helps to improve heart function, maintain kidney function, and lower the body's core temperature. Dehydration can stress the heart and reduce the kidneys' ability to maintain the correct balance of electrolytes (charged elements -- such as potassium, sodium, phosphorous and chloride -- essential for the normal function of every cell in the body).

If symptoms include loss of consciousness, confusion, rapid breathing or heartbeat, or low blood pressure, then fluids are given intravenously. After rehydration, a person usually recovers rapidly and fully. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke.

Pre hospital Care

Immediate cooling and support of organ-system dysfunction is essential.

Remove the patient from the hot environment, remove excess clothing, and transfer to a shady place, a cool vehicle, or a cool building.

Support airway, breathing, and circulation with intravenous (IV) fluids, supplemental oxygen, and assisted ventilation, as indicated.

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