From our archives – What is heat exhaustion, originally published 2011
What is heat exhaustion?
The recent hot weather over the Easter holiday weekend highlights the need to make sure that when you are out and about in the sunshine (especially if you are exercising) you make sure that you keep your body supplied with enough fluid to keep it cool. This will help prevent the medical condition known as heat exhaustion which if not treated can develop into the more serious condition called heat stroke.
Heat Exhaustion happens when the body gets too hot and loses too much salt and water usually through excessive sweating.
The hypothalamus which is the part of the brain that controls your core body temperature becomes unable to keep up with the demands of keeping the body cool by sweating due to a combination of excessive exercise in hot temperatures and a lack of sufficient fluid intake. When this happens the body’s temperature rises above 37°C and causes heat exhaustion. If the body is not sufficiently cooled and the body temperature rises above 40°C this can develop into heat stroke, which is a life threatening illness which requires immediate medical attention.
How to recognise heat exhaustion:
Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
Pale, clammy skin
Dizziness or fainting
Muscle and abdominal cramps
Mild increases in temperature
These signs and symptoms don’t necessarily have to be all present to indicate the onset of heat exhaustion which can occur gradually over a period of time.
How do we treat heat exhaustion?
The key aims in the treatment of heat exhaustion are to supply the body with fluids (water is usually enough or a sports drink containing electrolytes) and to cool it down and to monitor the patient in case their temperature continues to increase to a more dangerous level (over 40°) which can lead to heat stroke. If this occurs an ambulance needs to be called.
Treatment of heat stroke includes:
Helping the casualty to a cool place.
Lying them down and raising their legs 15-30cm to allow blood to flow back to the vital organs.
Giving them plenty of water.
Consider giving a weak salt solution – 1 teaspoon of salt per litre of water, assisting the casualty to drink it.
Monitoring the casualty’s lifeline and if it deteriorates contacting 999 or 112 for an ambulance
Being prepared to deliver CPR (rescue breaths and chest compressions) in case of cardiac arrest
How to prevent heat exhaustion?
If you are working or exercising outside in hot temperatures you need to think ahead to prevent the onset of heat exhaustion. This can be achieved by drinking lots of fluids before during and after physical exertion, avoiding alcohol, drinking water or sports drinks instead.
A regular fitness regime may also allow the body to better tolerate exercise on hot days.
Are some people more vulnerable to heat exhaustion?
Some groups of people can be more susceptible to heat exhaustion so care must be taken in hot weather if you or those that you are looking after fall into the following categories.
Young children under the age of 5 are susceptible to heat exhaustion due to their naturally under-developed hypothalamus as are the elderly who unable to regulate their body temperature as well as those younger than them.
Obese people may also be more prone to heat exhaustion as well as pregnant women and those suffering from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
Remember that if you are administering first aid to someone suffering from heat exhaustion and their condition continues to deteriorate after treatment then consider calling 999 or 112 as your patient may be developing heat stroke which can cause a heart attack and cardiac arrest and death.
For more information of first aid and first aid training courses please visit http://www.meducatetraining.co.uk contact Meducate Training on 07791 865269