What is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Usually, it is not a very severe condition or life-threatening Heat exhaustion is most likely to affect people with high blood pressure, those who work in very highly heated surroundings, and the elderly. The symptoms usually include headache, nausea, dizziness, excessive sweating, elevated body temperatures, irritated or aggressive behaviour, flushed face, shallow breathing, and decreased urine output.

Check out this article for more information on the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of heat exhaustion.

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About Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body becomes dehydrated and is unable to regulate its temperature. Usually, the condition is not severe or life-threatening. You can recover from heat exhaustion with adequate rest and by consuming plenty of fluids.

Our body exerts internal heat by releasing sweat. Hot and humid weather can limit the absorption of sweat from the skin surface, restructuring the ability to reduce the body temperature. Dehydration happens when your body lacks essential salts and water levels, reducing its ability to sweat. When you are unable to regulate your body temperature, it can lead to a condition known as heat exhaustion.

Typically, there are two types of heat exhaustion:

  1. Water Depletion: In this type of heat exhaustion, you will have increased thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness.

  2. Salt Depletion: In this type, you will experience nausea, muscle cramps, and dizziness.

In this section, we will understand the heat exhaustion causes, treatment, and preventive measures. Let us begin with the symptoms of the condition.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion symptoms are often overlooked and are similar to several other health conditions. However, some common signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Weak or rapid pulse

  • Excessive sweating

  • An increase in body temperature

  • Muscle weakness or cramps

  • Nausea

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • Low blood pressure

  • Vomiting

  • Irritation of aggressive behaviour

  • Red, flushed face

  • Rapid or shallow breathing patterns

In children, heat exhaustion symptoms are as follows:

  • Excessive tiredness

  • Unusual thirstiness

  • Having cool or clammy skin

Old children can experience stomach or leg cramps as symptoms of heat stress. It is best to get medical attention immediately when a child is suffering from heat exhaustion.

Causes of Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is usually a combination of physical exertion and hot weather conditions. However, there are additional factors that can cause heat exhaustion. These include:

  • High humidity (usually over 60 percent)

  • Liver or kidney issues

  • Intense workout regime

  • Underlying health issues that can pose a risk of dehydration, such as diabetes or hyperglycemia

  • Drug abuse

  • Heavy or long-term alcohol consumption

  • Smoking

  • A side effect of certain medications

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart-related diseases

Children below the age of 4 years are most likely to suffer from heat exhaustion during summer. Also, adults above the age of 65 years are at risk too. Let us take a look at the potential health complications arising due to heat exhaustion.

Health Complications due to Heat Exhaustion

Typically, heat exhaustion does not pose any health risks. However, if it is left untreated, it leads to heatstroke and other severe health issues. These include,

  • Severe kidney issues

  • Rhabdomyolysis, which causes kidney failure, irregular heart rate, muscle pain, vomiting, and more.

  • Liver failure

  • Arrhythmias

  • Delirium or coma

In case you are experiencing other health issues with clear signs of heat exhaustion, get in touch with your doctor immediately.

Treatment for Heat Exhaustion

If you are suffering from heat exhaustion due to physical exertion, it is best to stop the physical activity you are involved in immediately. Sit out from the workout set and drink plenty of water and electrolyte-based fluids.

Whether the condition is due to intense activities or hot weather, you can use the following tips for heat exhaustion treatment:

  • Seek a cool place or shaded area

  • Wear loose-fitted clothes, allowing air ventilation to the body

  • Lie flat on your back

  • Take a cool shower

  • Place a cool cloth on your face or chest

  • Use ice packs under armpits or behind the neck in extreme cases

  • Drink a lot of water

By following one or more of these treatment methods, symptoms of heat exhaustion start to improve in under 30 minutes. However, if you are still suffering from heat exhaustion after 30-60 minutes, it is best to consult a doctor.

The doctor will treat heat exhaustion by providing you with 1-2 litres of intravenous (IV) fluids and electrolytes. If IV fluids and resting does not resolve your heat exhaustion symptoms, the doctor recommends undergoing blood tests to understand other potential causes. Usually, when heat exhaustion is treated promptly, you should fully recover from it within 24-48 hours.

Prevention of Heat Exhaustion

A simple way to avoid suffering from heat exhaustion is by staying hydrated and cool during summer and intense physical activities. You can take the following preventive measures to avoid this condition.

  • Drink plenty of electrolyte-based fluids during workouts and hot weather conditions

  • Avoid exercising in direct sunlight during summer

  • Avoid prolonged exposure to sun heat

  • Wear loose-fitted and light-coloured clothes

  • Avoid sugary drinks and sodas

  • Avoid stress in your daily routine

  • Exercise in well-ventilated areas

  • Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Reapply the same often

  • Keep your body hydrated and maintain good personal hygiene overall

Conclusion

Heat exhaustion looks mild and does not typically pose any health risks. However, if it is untreated, you can suffer from heatstroke and other health issues. Taking prevention beforehand will allow you to avoid suffering from the condition altogether.

Furthermore, health concerns can arise at any time. Worsen health conditions may require immediate hospitalisation and intensive care for a full recovery. All this can get overwhelming for you and your family (mentally and financially). Thus, it is best to have a health insurance plan in place that takes care of sudden/planned medical and hospitalisation expenses.

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