Heat exhaustion, left untreated, can be deadly, causing heat stroke and possibly cardiac arrest. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body's natural cooling system of sweating is overwhelmed by high temperatures and dehydration. When the body reaches a point where it's unable to cool itself, individuals may quickly progress into heat exhaustion or worse. There are multiple heat exhaustion symptoms, including dizziness, headaches, vomiting, loss of consciousness and heavy sweating. Fortunately, heat exhaustion can easily be avoided if one keeps well hydrated and avoids overexposure to heat.
Heat exhaustion symptoms are most common in the elderly and very young children. These age groups are less able to regulate body temperature and are more prone to heat-related illnesses. Children younger than four years old, in particular, are vulnerable to heat, as well as people older than 65. Obesity and heart-related ailments can also make an individual more likely to develop heat exhaustion symptoms.
Heat exhaustion symptoms typically begin with heavy sweating. By itself, sweating isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's one of the body's chief methods of regulating temperature. When dehydrated and exposed to high temperatures, individuals begin to sweat more heavily than normal, which is one of the first signs of heat exhaustion. Other signs quickly follow, such as fatigue, weakness, muscle cramping, even vomiting. Individuals suffering from heat exhaustion may actually have cool skin, which appears pale. They may also exhibit a quickened, yet weaker, pulse. Any combinations of these symptoms are a high indicator of heat exhaustion, and no time should be wasted in treating them, lest they progress to deadly heat stroke.
Knowing how to quickly recognize and treat heat exhaustion symptoms can mean the difference between life and death. Removing the individual from the heat and into a cool place as well as immediately providing cool, hydrating beverages, are the most important steps. When giving liquids to an individual suffering from heat exhaustion, be sure to provide only hydrating beverages, such as water or sports drinks containing electrolytes. Drinks containing caffeine, alcohol, or other drinks which can further dehydrate the body should be avoided. The ill individual should also immediately change into cool, lightweight clothing and find ways to cool down, such as with a shower or damp cloth.
If symptoms appear to worsen rather than quickly dissipate, individuals should seek immediate medical attention. A person with extreme heat exhaustion may need medical attention and intravenous (IV) fluids. Without the proper attention, heat exhaustion symptoms can develop into heat stroke, which has been known to cause heart attacks as well as brain damage and damage to other body organs and functions.