Knowing the Signs of Heat Exhaustion

Heat related illnesses are very serious. For people who aren’t used to very hot weather or long stretches of extreme heat and high dew points, knowing the signs of heat exhaustion can mean the difference between life and death. We often hear about the deaths of countless low income people in major metropolitan areas of the United States who die because of the heat, mostly because they can’t afford to have or use air conditioning, and especially when they have other medical problems that exacerbate the effects of the heat.

By learning how to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion, you will be able to protect yourself and your loved ones from potentially suffering from something far worse such as heat stroke, and that can be the most deadly of all heat related illnesses.

Heat exhaustion can affect different people in different ways. There are some common symptoms that people may feel after being outside for a very long time, or when faced with extremely high temperatures, especially if the high heat is accompanied by humidity.

*Breathing discomfort –

Some people, especially those who have allergies and respiratory problems, may feel an uncomfortable sensation in their chest. They may feel that because of high humidity and heat, that breathing becomes difficult. This is one of the early warning signs that should alert these people that if they remain outside for too long, the situation may become much more serious. In big cities where there is a lot of traffic and congestion, the local weather people may even issue air quality alerts to advise these people that the conditions outdoors may make breathing difficult.

*Feeling extremely hot all of a sudden –

When a person breaks out into a sweat all of a sudden and it is accompanied by nausea and a feeling of faintness or dizziness, this is usually a sign that the heat is affecting them in a very adverse way. Seek shelter immediately in an air conditioned place and provide water or plain crushed ice chips so that the person gets some fast hydration. These are the feelings that many people will have before vomiting or before fainting.

*Nausea –

One of the most obvious signs of heat exhaustion is the feeling of nausea. You may begin to feel sick to your stomach after being outside for a while. At this point, the first thing you should do is look for water or some electrolyte enhanced beverage to drink. Then look for a way to get out of the heat, preferably to an air conditioned place. If nausea leads to vomiting, especially when someone is out in extreme heat, this can create an electrolyte balance that may lead to much more serious medical complications.

*Dizziness –

Another symptom that people may feel in connection with heat exhaustion is the feeling of dizziness. Dizziness when accompanied by nausea can cause people to start vomiting or even faint. At this point, it can be helpful to provide some liquid, even if only cold water or an electrolyte enhanced type of water, and refuge in an air conditioned place.

*Feeling lightheaded –

If you start to feel lightheaded, you might also feel queasy  or dizzy. You may even feel nauseated. This is always a sign that the heat is affecting you in some way and you need to seek refuge in air conditioning and rehydrate yourself.

*Feeling “off” –

If you feel “off,” but can’t put your finger on what it is, but you just know that you don’t feel well, chances are, you are suffering from some sort of effect from the heat. You need to get yourself into a cool environment and just relax for a bit. Drinking water, eating a banana or drinking orange juice can also be helpful. The latter two are quick sources of potassium, and orange juice often works rather quickly.

Avoid going out in extremely hot weather without having some water with you. Don’t allow yourself to remain outside to the point at which you start to feel ill. That is usually a sign of imminent heat distress of some kind. If you have to be outdoors, protect yourself with sunscreen, a hat and a neck “coolie” around your neck. These are scarf like things that are filled with polymer crystals that absorb water. The water around your neck can help to keep you cooler.

Wear appropriate clothing, preferably light colored clothing made from breathable fabrics. Drink plenty of water and decaffeinated and non-alcoholic beverages to keep yourself hydrated. The human body has a great way of warning us when things aren’t right on the inside. Don’t ignore those signs or things like dizziness, nausea or queasiness because those are all signs that the body sends us to warn us of problems.

If you see someone who appears to be very hot, obviously delirious, and whose skin is unnaturally red or dry because they cannot sweat, call the paramedics immediately because that person is probably on the verge of a serious heat stroke. I didn’t know how to recognize those signs 27 years ago, but if If someone hadn’t known that I was in life threatening danger some 27 years ago just because they recognized all of the important signs of heat stroke, I wouldn’t be alive today. I had an episode of full blown heat stroke and was thankfully close enough to a hospital to be treated quickly, but I didn’t regain consciousness for many days, so I now heed those warning signs from my body the moment I sense them. Everyone should train themselves to be aware of those early warning signs so they can prevent the early signs of heat exhaustion from becoming full blown heat stroke.