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Beating the heat – Signs and symptoms of heat related illness

With high temperatures expected this weekend those spending time outside should know the signs that they are getting overheated and need to get out of the elements.

When it comes to heat related illnesses two of the most concerning are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

“There is about two and a half patients out of 100,000 that seek care for heat related illness,” said Dr. John Rinker, Chief Medical Officer, OSF HealthCare Saint James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center. “Certainly in the summer months it’s more common. You’ll see it a lot more surrounding people participating in high risk activities: people who play sports, so think high school kids who are otherwise healthy, but they’re doing two-a-day football practices or they’re playing baseball out in the summer. They are certainly at higher risk for heat exhaustion.”

With heat exhaustion, the less serious of the two, Dr. Rinker said you will feel faint, sweat excessively, feel nauseated, and have a rapid, weak pulse.

Even more serious is heat stroke. Dr. Rinker said it is the result of being extremely overheated and dehydrated.

The dehydration is so severe that it decreases circulation to the brain, causing neurological problems and eventual organ failure. Common signs include a throbbing headache, a rapid pulse, and loss of consciousness.

Another main difference between the two is that those suffering from heat stroke can stop sweating completely.

“Once your body temperature gets above a certain degree, those basic mechanisms to make you sweat excessively start to get bypassed and shut off,” Dr. Rinker explained. He continued, “By that time you’re probably exhibiting several other types of central nervous system deficits. Certainly keeping that in mind, you can check your temperature and take whatever steps necessary to start cooling yourself down.”

While everyone is susceptible to heat stroke, certain groups are more at risk. Children younger than four years old and adults age 65 and older are at an increased risk.

If someone appears to be suffering from heat exhaustion they can recover by moving to a cool environment and hydrating.

But if it is heat stroke, call 9-1-1 because it can be fatal if not treated.

So what can you do to prevent both of these - Stay hydrated, try to accomplish outdoor tasks earlier or later in the day, and take steps to avoid sunburn.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

  • Profuse sweating
  • Water depletion (causes extreme thirst)
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Salt depletion (causes muscle cramps)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Headache

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

  • Body temperature greater than 104° F (main sign)
  • No sweating in hot weather
  • Neurological problems such as confusion, unconsciousness, and seizures
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate

Kaitlin Pearson

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