Amid this summer’s heatwaves and record-breaking temperatures, it’s an important time to know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. Extended exposure to sun or heat can lead to everything from dehydration and muscle cramps, to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and even death. Learn how to identify and treat these conditions, and when it’s time to seek professional treatment.
Understanding Heat-Related Illness
If you’re an athlete or active person who trains in the summer, you’re likely familiar with heat cramps. Intense exercise in hot weather can bring on these painful, involuntary muscle spasms. Heat cramps can involve any muscle group, but are generally felt in the calves, arms, abs or back. While these muscle spasms are more intense and prolonged than your typical nighttime leg cramp, they aren’t cause for too much concern.
How to self-treat Heat Cramps:
- Simply rest, cool down, and drink plenty of fluids.
- Clear juice, coconut water, or a sports drink can help you replenish electrolytes.
- Gentle stretching and massage can ease pain.
- Give your body time to recover, and don’t resume exercise for at least a few hours.
If your cramps last longer than an hour, call your doctor, or head to our urgent care clinic for a quick evaluation and advice.
Heat exhaustion is a slightly more serious heat-related syndrome. Extended hours working or playing in the heat and sun, combined with dehydration, can lead to serious symptoms such as:
- Heavy sweating
- Cold, clammy skin with goosebumps
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle cramps
- Tiredness or weakness
Left untreated, these symptoms can progress into life-threatening heatstroke. If you suspect heat exhaustion, here’s what to do immediately:
- Get out of the heat and into a shady, cool, or air-conditioned place
- Lay down and elevate legs and feet
- Loosen clothing, removing anything tight or heavy
- Cool down the body with cold towels, a cold bath, or mist
- Sip cool water
- Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages
If symptoms aren’t improving, or you begin throwing up, seek immediate medical treatment. An urgent care is a good choice for mild symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Heatstroke is the most serious heat-related illness, and requires emergency treatment. Symptoms include:
- Body temperature of 103°F or higher
- Flushed red skin that feels hot and dry
- Racing pulse
- Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, or otherwise altered behavior
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Losing consciousness (passing out)
Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Call 911 or go directly to the ER. While waiting for emergency care, take steps to cool the overheated person down:
- Move out of the sun and heat
- Cool the person down with any means available – ice packs, wet towels, water from a garden hose, etc.
- Do not give the person anything to drink
Take precautions against these conditions by staying hydrated, using sun protection, wearing light, loose clothing, and taking it easy when the temps rise.