While summer is a season known for outdoor activities and this weekend is known for camping, hiking and barbecues, everyone needs to be aware of the potentially significant threat to those who aren't careful to know when they've been in the sun too long.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are two of the biggest concerns for those spending time under the summer sun. Differentiating between the two and understanding the causes and symptoms of each can help revelers survive the summer heat.
North County Fire Protection District PIO John Choi recently expressed concern for people who may take advantage of the holiday weekend to go hiking. "This is not the kind of weather to hike in," He said. He recanted a story about a young 22-year-old woman who was hiking with two friends on Three Sisters Trail and almost died. "She had third-degree burns on her legs and body because there was no shade and she was literally cooking to death on a rock. Her internal organs were cooking. He said she spent a long time in ICU recovering. It's important to know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
What is heat exhaustion?
Those who work or exercise in humid or hot conditions might have experienced some level of heat exhaustion. When a person is suffering from heat exhaustion, their body is losing its fluids through sweat, and that loss causes dehydration. The body will also overheat, with its temperature rising as high as 104º.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke can be life-threatening. When a person is experiencing heat stroke, his or her body's cooling system stops working, and the body's temperature can rise to 105º or higher. The cooling system is controlled by the brain, so heat stroke can even damage the brain and/or additional internal organs.
What causes heat exhaustion?
Many people who suffer from heat exhaustion are not used to exercising or working in hot or humid environments, an unfamiliarity that makes them susceptible to heat exhaustion. Especially humid days make it difficult for the body to properly evaporate sweat, and the body will lose fluids and electrolytes. As this is happening, people who do not adequately replace those lost fluids are more likely to suffer from heat exhaustion.
What causes heat stroke?
Unlike heat exhaustion, which is largely caused by external conditions, heat stroke can result from an existing medical condition or medications. People with certain conditions or on medications that hinder the body's ability to sweat may be predisposed to heat stroke because their cooling mechanisms are already impaired or compromised. But heat stroke can also be caused by anyone exerting themselves in a hot environment, even if those people do not have a preexisting medical condition.
What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion symptoms vary but can include: sweating profusely, feelings of dizziness, muscle cramps or pains, fainting, dark-colored urine (dehydration), nausea, pale skin, rapid heartbeat, and headache.
What are the symptoms of heat stroke?
A body temperature of 105º or above is a telltale indicator of heat stroke, but additional symptoms may include: throbbing headache; flushed, hot and dry skin; slightly elevated blood pressure; dizziness and light-headedness; nausea and vomiting; rapid, shallow breathing; lack of sweating despite the heat; rapid heartbeat that is strong or weak; and unconsciousness.
If heat exhaustion is suspected, it is important to get the person out of the heat immediately, ideally into an air-conditioned room but under a tree in the shade if that's the only option. Call a doctor if they cannot keep fluids down or seem incoherent.
Those who can keep fluids down should drink plenty of non-caffeinated and nonalcoholic beverages, and remove any tight or unnecessary clothing. In addition, they can take a cool shower or bath, but only if someone is around to monitor them.
If a person is displaying symptoms of heat stroke, which is potentially life-threatening, immediately call 911. Move the person to an air-conditioned room, and try to get his or her body temperature down to a more manageable 101º or 102º. Wet the person's skin and apply ice packs to the armpits, groin, neck, and back, as these areas have an abundance of blood vessels close to the skin, and cooling them can help lower body temperature.