Heat Exhaustion: Know the Signs

More often than not, summer months in South Carolina tend toward sweltering, if not outright blistering, weather.

But no matter how long you've lived in the Palmetto State, no matter how accustomed you might feel to our unique brand of muggy, buggy summertime heat, there's always risk associated with prolonged exposure to it.

And we're not just talking about sunburn, either.

Heat stress and other heat-related illnesses can be devastating. For example, heat stroke (which stems from heat exhaustion) can inflict lasting damage on the brain and other organs, and it can even result in death.

To avoid experiencing heat exhaustion, or its more severe relative, heat stroke, it helps to know the warning signs.

It also helps to know what proactive measures you can take to protect yourself.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

How do you know if you're suffering from heat exhaustion, or if you're just tired? And a little bit dehydrated?

The symptoms of heat exhaustion are many. The most common include feelings of fatigue, as well as headache, thirst, and, in some instances, the loss of consciousness.

Other symptoms can include, but are not limited to:

  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Elevated heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

If you're experiencing any combination of the above after prolonged exposure to heat, you might be dealing with a case of heat exhaustion.

Treating Heat Exhaustion

There are a few straightforward methods to address this issue:

  1. Hydrate - If you haven't been diligent with your fluid intake, get some water, pronto. (And, if you have issues with salt depletion, it might be a good idea to get a sports drink like Gatorade in your system.)
  2. Cool Down - Take a long, cold bath, or an invigorating cold shower, or grab a wet washcloth or an icepack to rest on your forehead for a spell. Sitting in front of an HVAC unit or a fan helps, too.
  3. Remove Layers - If you're excessively layered for the season, you should consider removing any unnecessary articles of clothing, as these might be contributing to your heat stress.

If your condition worsens in spite of taking these measures, contact your doctor or a medical professional immediately for advice.

In some cases, when heat exhaustion doesn't respond to these straightforward home remedies, it can sometimes intensify and become heat stroke. Better to err on the side of caution and contact your doctor if symptoms continue!

Strategies to Prevent Heat Stress

The risk of heat exhaustion skyrockets when temperatures climb above 90 degrees.

So, during the warmer months, and especially on days with lots of unobstructed sunshine, very young children and people over the age of 65 should take special care to protect themselves from prolonged exposure to the heat.

That means:

  • Wear sunscreen. Physical blockers tend to be more effective than chemical, as they actively reflect the sun's UV rays away from you. (Don't go with an SPF under 30.)
  • Wear season-appropriate clothing. Your clothes should not be tight, dark-colored, or heavy, as these draw and retain heat, and add stress to the body.
  • Drink your fluids. This is perhaps our most important guidance. Routine consumption of fluids throughout the day ensures that your body is getting the replenishment it needs to stay vital.

Now that you're equipped with the strategies to recognize, treat, and even prevent heat exhaustion, you should be well-prepared to enjoy this summer.

Have some (responsible) fun in the sun!

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