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Category: Safety Information

Understanding Heat-Related Illnesses: Recognizing Symptoms and Seeking Help

Heat illnesses are a spectrum of conditions caused by exposure to high temperatures and humidity, often exacerbated by physical exertion and inadequate hydration. These conditions can range from mild discomfort to severe medical emergencies, requiring prompt attention. Here’s a breakdown of common heat illnesses and when to seek medical help: 

Heat Cramps: These are painful muscle spasms that usually occur during intense exercise in hot weather. They are often caused by dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Symptoms include muscle pain or spasms, typically in the abdomen, arms, or legs. 

To treat heat cramps, move to a cooler place, hydrate with water or electrolyte-rich fluids, and gently stretch and massage the affected muscles. 

Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is more serious than heat cramps and occurs when the body overheats. It is characterized by heavy sweating, rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea, headache, and weakness. If not treated promptly, heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke.

To treat heat exhaustion, immediate steps to take include moving to a cooler environment, drinking cool fluids, and resting with legs elevated. Medical attention should be sought if symptoms worsen or do not improve within 30 minutes. 

Heatstroke: Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition where the body's temperature regulation fails, and body temperature rises to dangerous levels (usually above 104°F or 40°C). Symptoms include confusion, rapid breathing, seizures, unconsciousness, and hot, dry skin (lack of sweating).

Heatstroke requires immediate emergency medical treatment. While waiting for help, move the person to a cooler place, remove excess clothing, and cool them with wet cloths or a fan until medical professionals arrive. 

When should you seek medical help for heat-related illnesses? It’s crucial to seek immediate medical assistance if: 

  • Symptoms worsen or do not improve: If someone experiencing heat-related symptoms like dizziness, nausea, or confusion does not improve with rest and hydration, medical help should be sought. 

  • Heatstroke symptoms are present: Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Call emergency services immediately if someone shows signs of confusion, seizures, loss of consciousness, or hot, dry skin. 

  • Underlying health conditions or medications: Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions or taking medications that affect heat tolerance (such as diuretics) should be cautious in hot weather and seek medical advice promptly if feeling unwell. 

Understanding the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses is crucial for staying safe in hot weather. Taking preventive measures such as staying hydrated, avoiding strenuous activity during peak heat hours, and wearing lightweight, breathable clothing can significantly reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses. However, prompt recognition of symptoms and knowing when to seek medical help are essential for preventing serious complications.

When unexpected injury or life-threating medical events occur, emergency treatment is never far from home. Designated a Level III Trauma Center, the Emergency Department at CaroMont Regional Medical Center provides quick, advanced emergency care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Learn more here.