If you’ve taken Red Cross first aid training, you’ve learned something about heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The terms heat stroke and heat exhaustion are sometimes misnomers, as symptoms can occur without extreme heat. It’s important to be aware of the conditions of heat exhaustion and heat stroke as both can cause lasting and permanent health damage.
First of all, it’s important to note that heat exhaustion is the body’s warning signal of impending heat stroke. In the stage of heat exhaustion, the skin will become cold, pale and clammy, in an effort to cool itself down. Other heat exhaustion symptoms include dizziness, headache, sweating, nausea, weakness, tiredness, thirst, muscles cramps, slightly elevated body temperature and increased heart rate. Heat exhaustion occurs when a person combines inadequate fluid intake with exertion on a warm, humid, sunny day. Heat exhaustion is the body’s way of saying that it is dehydrating, losing salts and electrolytes and needs re-hydration.
If heat exhaustion progresses heat stroke, this can be life threatening. In heat stroke the body can no longer cool itself. The skin becomes flushed and hot, fever rises to the danger point and hyperventilation, unconsciousness and disorientation may occur. It is vital to get the body temperature down as quickly as possible.
What do I mean when I say that heat exhaustion and heat stroke aren’t always heat related? Simply that symptoms similar to heat stroke can occur in spaces with lack of ventilation. My husband recently treated a co-worker for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Their facility is air-conditioned, but as a maintenance worker, they often work in small areas with poor ventilation. Certain chemicals cause heat exhaustion and heat stroke symptoms. These workers are given ‘confined spaces’ training to help them learn how to manage in these situations. But the combination of high outdoor temperatures, chemicals, lack of ventilation, a heavy protective rubber suit, and a predisposition to heat exhaustion was too much for my husband’s co-worker.
By getting the heat stroke victim out of his rubber suit, getting him to a place with fresh air, applying cool compresses to the forehead and wrists, administering fluids, and calling 911 emergency for help, his co-workers were able to revive him and prevent full heat stroke symptoms from setting in. I recommend following this procedure. To avoid heat exhaustion, the best prevention is to drink plenty of clear, sugarless fluids and keep hydrated.
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