Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures, and it often is accompanied by dehydration.
Although heat exhaustion isn’t as serious as heat stroke, it isn’t something to be taken lightly. Without proper intervention, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs, and even cause death.
Heat Exhaustion Causes
Heat exhaustion can be caused by water depletion, which has symptoms such as excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness.
It can also be caused by salt depletion. Signs include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.
Heat Exhaustion Treatment
If you suspect that you or someone else is experiencing heat exhaustion, here’s what you should do:
- Get out of the heat—quickly: Move to a cool, shady place or an air-conditioned building. If body temperature continues to rise, heat exhaustion can rapidly progress to heatstroke, a more serious, potentially fatal condition. Even returning to the sun many hours later can cause a relapse in some cases.
- Drink cool water: You need to get hydrated, so start drinking lots of water or other fluids. To stay hydrated while you’re exerting yourself in hot weather, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that you drink 1 cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes.
- Rest: Lie down with your legs and feet slightly elevated.
- Loosen your clothing: This helps your body cool down faster.
- Speed up cooling: Have someone spray or sponge you with cool water, and then fan you with a folded newspaper. The evaporation of the water is very cooling.
Monitor your symptoms
If it’s not treated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can be deadly. However, sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between the two. Of course, no one goes directly from feeling fine to the brink of death—no matter how hot it is. For this reason, a person who doesn’t respond to self-help measures for heat exhaustion within 30 minutes should be taken to the hospital. It’s important to get emergency care quickly, as possible complications such as shock and kidney shutdown could develop. If you have heat exhaustion, the worst you’ll get is confused. If you have trouble walking or become unconscious, then you’re getting into heatstroke, and should call 9-1-1.
Heat exhaustion doesn’t necessarily develop in one day. You could be dehydrating gradually over several days. If you continue to feel sick and it’s not an emergency, please call us at Prosperity Internal Medicine at 703-876-9300 for an appointment. Our group uses the latest advances in medicine, offering our patients access to innovative health management technologies, proactive team-based care, and an evidenced-based, patient-centered approach.