Heat-related illnesses usually occur when victims are unable to cool their bodies through perspiration and evaporation. It can also occur if body fluid loss is much faster than replenishment.
The best way to deal with heat-related illnesses is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Always be conscious of weather conditions that can lead to these illnesses, such as temperatures of 90 F or higher and high humidity, being especially cautious if these two are combined. When these conditions occur, avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day.
If outside activity is necessary, do not perform any activity that requires enough physical exertion to cause excessive sweating. Also, be on the lookout for the first signs of heat illness in yourself and others, such as heavy perspiration, muscle cramping, tiredness, headaches, dizziness or nausea.
There are three levels of severity to heat-related illnesses: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and the most severe, heat stroke.
Heat Cramps—Heat cramps are painful muscle contractions that are brought on by a combination of heat, dehydration and poor conditioning. The most common place for a heat cramp is in the calf muscle, and the only real symptom is the pain created by the contraction. This contraction can be severe, but is not a long-term threat. Recommended remedies are rest, drinking water, stretching and a cool environment.
Heat Exhaustion—Heat exhaustion occurs when excessive fluid loss causes the core body temperature to climb to, or in excess of, 102 F. Heat and high humidity, along with inadequate replenishment of fluids, are normally the main contributors to heat exhaustion.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion are weakness, fatigue, headache, nausea, paleness of skin, rapid heart rate and vomiting. Victims of heat exhaustion are normally still coherent, except in advanced stages, where they may become disoriented.
To treat heat exhaustion, move the victim to a shady, cool place, ideally a place with air-conditioned air. Cool down the body by covering it with wet towels or by fanning. Giving the victim too much water too quickly could send them into shock, so do not administer more than two quarts of water per hour. In severely exhausted victims, an IV of fluids may be needed, especially if vomiting prevents them from drinking. Monitor the victim's temperature until recovered. If the victim's condition worsens, seek medical attention.
Heat Stroke—Heat stroke is the most severe form of the heat illnesses. Heat stroke can be life threatening and immediate action is required, the first of which should be to call for a doctor or emergency personnel.
Some of the noticeable symptoms of heat stroke are cramping, pale coloration of the skin and hot, dry skin. Other, less obvious symptoms are a rapid heart rate and having an elevated temperature. These symptoms may be more, or less, noticeable depending on the victim's recent activities and environment.
Heat stroke victims have very high temperatures of 106 F or higher. At this temperature, the blood vessels in the arms and legs constrict, reducing the flow of cooling blood. Victims of heat stroke often have reached a stage of incoherence, and could be unconscious or having seizures.
Most importantly, if heat stroke is diagnosed, immediately seek medical attention and move the victim to a cool place, such as shade, an air-conditioned room or immersion in water. Remove constricting clothes. Apply cool, wet towels or clothes to the body and massage the arms and legs to promote blood flow. Monitor the victim's temperature and await professional medical help.
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