by Kelly Nomura

Avoid Heat Illness While Outdoors

Heat-Related Ailments, Illnesses, & Remedies

Human beings have survived in hot climates since the dawn of time.  If we follow the basic rules, it’s quite possible to avoid heat illness.  The most important is to drink plenty of water and let your body’s cooling system work. Then be reasonable about what you choose to do in direct sunlight.  When fighting the heat, a little common sense goes a long way, and the basic treatment is always the same. Similarly, preparing yourself and your rig may prove very worthwhile.

Basic Treatment

  • Stop all activity and rest in a cool or at least shady place, to cool the body
  • Drink good fluids – water, juice, or electrolyte sports drinks
  • Determine whether medical attention is necessary

1. Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are among the first signs of heat illness. When fluid loss from sweating and evaporation depletes the body’s salt and water reserves, muscles respond by cramping up.  Most often, this happens in the legs, arms, and midsection. It’s important to remember that these are not ordinary cramps, and that if left unaddressed, the sufferer will proceed rapidly towards life-threatening events.
To treat heat cramps, follow the basic steps and get the victim to a cooler place, drink plenty of good fluids, and allow the victim to rest.  If you do these things but the cramps are still happening after an hour, seek medical attention and get the victim to drink more fluids.

Vehicles in distance in desert with dry cracked dirt terrain.

Traveling through hot climates, even in vehicles, won’t necessarily protect you from the heat.

2. Heat Fainting

Fainting or passing out from the heat is technically called “heat syncope.” This is often preceded by dizziness or nausea. Heat is the usual cause of syncope, but you can also feel this from a bad sunburn, even on an overcast day. Or, when you walk out into extreme heat from an air-conditioned building, a wave of dizziness can strike. That’s a form of syncope, too.
The solution to syncope is much the same as for all heat illness – rest, in a cool place if possible, and drink more fluids. If the symptoms do not pass within an hour, seek medical attention.

Time is critical when dealing with heat stroke. Immediate medical attention is required.

3. Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is closely related to heat fainting – and fainting is usually part of a heat exhaustion event. It happens when the initial signs of heat illness have been ignored and the body suffers excessive dehydration. Heat exhaustion strikes some people harder and faster than others. The elderly and those who are overweight or have heart conditions or high blood pressure are particularly prone to heat exhaustion, so if someone you know is at greater risk, keep a closer eye on that.
Heat exhaustion is characterized by extreme sweating and moist skin, weakness, dizziness or sleepiness, confusion, muscle cramps, and nausea or vomiting. The victim may have a ruddy or pale look compared to normal, breathing may be fast and shallow, and he or she may be running a slight fever.
The treatment is similar to the less severe symptoms, but immediate and more intense care is needed at this point.  Get the victim to shade or indoors to a cool area. Offer them cool—but not cold—water, juice, or sports drink. Cool the victim by applying water-soaked cloths, or get the victim into a cool shower or bath. If possible, seek medical help immediately.

The body temperature of heat exhaustion victims can be lowered with cool water.

4. Heat Stroke

When heat illness becomes immediately life threatening, we call it heat stroke. Heat stroke is when the victim’s ability to sweat breaks down, leading to severe body temperature spikes. A victim of heat stroke may have his or her body temperature rise to 106 degrees within minutes. Brain damage, organ damage, and death are imminent. Immediate first aid and medical attention are critical at this point.
Everyone should recognize the signs of heat stroke. Usually, a victim will have hot, dry skin, but in early stages they may still be sweating. Hallucinations, difficulty speaking, confusion, dizziness or fainting are also likely to be presented. Physically, the victim may be experiencing chills or pain, particularly headaches.
Time is critical when dealing with heat stroke. Call 911 (if available) immediately and inform the operator that you’re treating heat stroke.  As with lesser heat maladies, get the victim into shade and cool their body by any means available. This may include soaking the victim with available water, or simply fanning them with cooler air. Victims may or may not be able to drink at this point. Medical care will be a necessity if at all possible.

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