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Know the Signs of Heat Exhaustion

A young female patient with a mask sits on an exam table reviewing paperwork with a female doctor who is standing next to her.

This article has been medically reviewed and approved by Carlos A. Baez, MD.

Even as the cooler weather rolls in, keep the importance of heat safety in mind.

While a day outside in the seemingly cooler temps may feel ideal for fun and relaxation, there are some serious precautions you should take, especially if you plan on enjoying the outdoors for hours at a time.

Sunburns are still possible, prolonged periods in the sun can lead to serious heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

These conditions affect thousands of Americans yearly, especially those who live in warmer climates or spend a lot of time outdoors.

If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition.

The good news is that heat-related illnesses are entirely preventable. Understanding the signs of heat exhaustion and taking appropriate measures to lessen your risk are essential.

Let’s discuss heat exhaustion in more detail, including the signs, symptoms, causes and treatment options.

First, What Is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is your body’s response to high temperatures, which causes an imbalance in your core temperature and excessive loss of water and salt, most often associated with sweating.

Heat exhaustion can affect anyone anytime but is more common in children, the elderly and those with preexisting conditions such as high blood pressure or obesity.

The most common and direct cause of heat exhaustion is exposure to high temperatures and humidity while performing strenuous physical activities.

Other causes include

  • Dehydration
  • Alcohol use
  • Overdressing

What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Heat Exhaustion?

The best way to prevent serious heat-related illnesses is to know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion so that you may take care of yourself or a loved one right away.

Some of the most common signs of heat exhaustion include

  • Excessive sweating
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • A weak, rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure, primarily upon standing
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Skin that feels cool to the touch
  • Goosebumps or chills

What’s the Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke?

Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are caused by your body’s inability to regulate body temperature correctly.

Heat stroke is considered the more extreme form of heat exhaustion. It occurs when you experience heat exhaustion symptoms and a body temperature of 104 degrees or more.

Other symptoms of heat stroke include

  • Lack of sweating
  • A rapid heart rate
  • Headache
  • Skin that is red and hot to the touch
  • Delirium
  • Loss of consciousness

Many cases of heat exhaustion can be successfully treated at home or an urgent care facility, but heat stroke is a medical emergency and must be treated right away.

If you suspect you or a loved one has heat stroke, especially if they’re experiencing confusion or fainting, you should

  • Call 911 immediately
  • Move to a cooler space indoors or a shaded area outdoors
  • Apply cold compresses to lower their body temperature
  • Avoid giving them fluids

When to Seek Treatment for Heat Exhaustion

If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing heat exhaustion, you should

  • Stop all strenuous activity immediately
  • Rest
  • Move to a cooler, shaded place
  • Drink water or a sports drink enhanced with electrolytes

If your symptoms worsen or do not improve within 30 to 60 minutes, you should seek medical treatment right away.

Immediate Attention for Your Urgent Care Needs

At PVHC, we understand that new or worsening heat-related symptoms can be worrisome, especially if they lead to a severe increase in body temperature that causes heat stroke.

We also recognize that even with the best precautions, you can still experience heat exhaustion after long hours in the hot sun.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms consistent with heat exhaustion, don’t delay, we can help; seek urgent care treatment immediately so you can start feeling better sooner.