Birmingham's summers can be sweltering, with temperatures averaging around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. As you prepare for the summer ahead, you probably have numerous activities planned for the whole family—swimming, backyard games, boat days, and outdoor adventures—just to name a few. However, a sunny day can quickly turn serious if you aren’t careful.
Without proper hydration, sun protection, and frequent breaks from the sun, you and your loved ones may be susceptible to heat illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Luckily, you can beat the summer heat with these tips from UAB Medical West. In this blog, we’ll discuss the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, how to prevent heat illness, and when it’s time to seek medical care from the experts.
Heat exhaustion, and other heat illnesses for that matter, occur when your body can no longer cool itself efficiently. Our average core body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but during heat exhaustion, this temperature rises and your body cannot cool itself. Hot weather, strenuous exercise, dehydration, and more can all contribute to heat exhaustion.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
Excessive sweating is a tell-tale sign of heat exhaustion and is a significant difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you’re still sweating, your body is actively trying to cool you down through the typical process of sweating, which is a good thing.
Cold, Pale, and Clammy Skin
Another differentiator between heat exhaustion and heat stroke is cold, clammy skin. As your body tries to lower your temperature, the sweat on your skin evaporates, which can create a cold, clammy-like sensation.
Some other symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Muscle cramps
- Excessive thirst
- Slow heart rate
Heat Exhaustion Treatment
If you or a loved one is suffering from heat exhaustion, get to a cool place as soon as possible and hydrate. We recommend water or sports drinks, like Gatorade or Powerade, to quickly quench your thirst. However, if you or a loved one is experiencing heat exhaustion and fading in and out of consciousness, don’t drink liquids; your body could quickly reject the fluids and aspirate them. As you try to cool your body temperature, you can lie down, apply a cold compress, and remove any tight clothing to help cool off quicker.
When to Seek Medical Care
If your symptoms do not improve or you continue to vomit, seek medical attention immediately. For most people, symptoms will subside in about 30 minutes, but if it’s been over an hour, or you’re not seeing any improvement at all, don’t hesitate to call your doctor or visit your local emergency room. It’s normal to feel tired or fatigued for a few hours or even days after heat exhaustion as your body recovers.
Heat illnesses, like heat stroke, can occur at a body temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and while this may sound unfathomable, reaching this body temperature can happen much quicker than you would think. In fact, there are 62,512 emergency department visits due to heat illnesses each year.
Heat stroke occurs when your temperature is too high, and your body stops cooling completely. Heat stroke usually occurs from overexertion in hot weather but can happen anytime the body loses the ability to cool itself, whether it’s from overexertion, extreme heat, or other causes.
Typically, your body will enter heat exhaustion and then heat stroke, but sometimes heat stroke occurs suddenly, and you won’t experience heat exhaustion symptoms. Heat stroke can develop from heat exhaustion in just a few minutes or as long as a few hours, so seeking medical treatment for heat stroke is essential.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke
As we mentioned before, sweating is your body’s way of cooling your core body temperature. If you notice you aren’t sweating or your skin is dry to the touch, this can be a sign of heat stroke.
Hot, Dry Skin
As your temperature continues to rise, your skin may appear red. Hot, dry skin usually accompanies a lack of sweating during a heat stroke since your body has completely lost its ability to cool itself.
Some other symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Confusion and/or delirium
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Dizziness and/or loss of consciousness
- Rapid heart rate
Heat Stroke Treatment
If you notice any signs of heat stroke, it’s vital you seek medical care. Call 911, move the individual to a cooler place, and apply a cold compress against the neck, under the arms, and in the groin area, where the large blood vessels are close to the skin’s surface. We recommend only giving them liquids if they’re not disoriented or vomiting.
When to Seek Medical Care
If untreated, heat stroke can cause loss of consciousness, seizures, and even death. Not to sound like a broken record, but it’s imperative you seek medical attention to avoid these serious medical conditions if you or a loved one is experiencing signs of a heat stroke. While waiting for emergency personnel, apply a cool compress or even apply water directly to the skin.
Heat Exhaustion & Heat Stroke Prevention
Young children, senior adults, and those who are overweight or physically ill have a higher risk of heat illnesses, but it can happen to anyone.
To avoid heat illness this summer while outside, we recommend:
- Wear light, loose-fitting clothing
- Wear sun-protective clothing and accessories, like a hat or sunglasses
- Drink water or hydrating liquids every 15-20 minutes
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine
- Take breaks often
- Schedule activity outside of the hottest hours of the day (11 am-5 pm)
When in doubt, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention if you think you or a loved one is experiencing heat illness.
Beat the Summer Heat with UAB Medical West
As you prepare for the summer, we recommend prioritizing proper hydration, loose and lightweight clothing, and taking frequent breaks. With the awareness of the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and stroke, you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe this summer.
And, if the worst-case scenario happens, and you or a loved one experiences signs of a heat stroke, don’t hesitate to call 911 and seek medical attention.
Your Local Free Standing Emergency Department in Birmingham, AL
Find quick, efficient emergency treatment at UAB Medical West. Whether you or a loved one suffers from a heat-related illness or other condition, our team of experts can help. If you experience a medical emergency, call 911. You can get in touch with our emergency center at (205) 820-8416 or our main campus number at (205) 681-7160.