Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Posted on: June 28, 2010

Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke can be very serious occurrances which can surprise even those of us who feel relatively medically savvy and fairly alert to such things. This is especially important to survivalists for several reasons. Many of us have full-time jobs and get out to our retreats or camps over weekends, and since we often have a great deal of work to do over one weekend period,we may work hard not really realizing that we are becoming dangerously overheated. We often feel pushed for time while prepping, and as a result, many of us may overdo. Sometimes, we are laboring in conditions without air conditioning when we are ordinarily in air conditioned areas when we labor this intensely.

We can avoid many cases of heat exhaustion by planning for them. When we are going to be active or working in non-air conditioned areas, or a part of the country in which we are unfamiliar, which may be hotter than the one in which we normally live, we should plan for heat issue avoidance. Have plenty of ventilation available if you don’t have air conditioning and be alert to the possibility. Keep lots and lots of cool water available and some Gatorade as well. Some individuals also benefit from having some salt or salty food nearby. You will likely know if you are one of the individuals who needs supplemental salt in hot weather. Shower often, including hair on blisteringly hot days where you must continue to exert yourself.

There are individuals who are much more prone to heat exhaustion and heat injury than others. Some of these individuals include those with asthma, COPD, or emphysema, of course cystic fibrosis. Those with known heart issues, recent surgeries, arrhythmic disorders, congestive heart failure history, high blood pressure, or heart defects should avoid excessive heat. Those with autoimmune disorders particularly lupus and multiple sclerosis should take great care not to become overheated. Those who take certain medications should avoid overheating as well. Those who take thyroid hormone (synthroid or cytomel or other drugs), those who take hormones of any type, and particularly those who take ritalin-like medications for focus or ADHD are at high risk. Although the elderly and the very young are thought of to be at highest risk, we can receive heat injury at any age, given the right set of conditions. There will also be individuals without these known disorders who will also have poor heat tolerance.

The symptoms of impending heat exhaustion include headache (often from dehydration), nausea, possible vomiting, dizziness, the sensation of a racing heart, on occasion, paleness or beet red appearance, tiredness, weakness, muscle cramps, fainting and excessive sweating. They may have a decreased urinary output or dark urine. Some people report blurred vision. Remember that an individual may have some of these symptoms , many of them,or all of them. Some individuals also develop diarrhea. There may also be dry mouth, dry tongue,and thirst. Some patients develop orthostatic hypotension, which is a way of saying that when they stand up, their pulse increases,and they feel dizzy. If you are slightly disoriented, then it’s also time to take a break and assess yourself for heat exhaustion.

If you or a family member develop these symptoms, you must stop your activity and focus on cooling down. If possible, get the person into a shaded air conditioned environment. Give cool water or Gatorade or similar beverage, but never alcohol. If there is nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, room temperature fluids may actually be better tolerated. Try to provide a cool shower, sponge bath or gentle hose spray. In very hot climates, you may want to assemble a heat exhaustion treatment kit.

Heat injury is part of a continuum which ranges from cramps from heat, to heat exhaustion, all the way to heat stroke, which is a medical emergency which requires Emergency Room intervention. If your family member with heat exhaustion symptoms does not improve within 30 minutes or cannot keep fluids down, is significantly dehydrated or disoriented, or has a body temperature in excess of 101, a trip to the ER could save their lives. Remember that those who have had heat exhaustion or heatstroke are prone to developing it again.

This week I was on my own farm, in my own barn, taking care of an elderly pet dog who now lives in the new ventilated barn. The dog was quite comfortable, lying in an open room with two fans, having just had a complete spray bath, cool water, and listening to a radio. However, I had already cleaned house, run some laundry, and walked down there before cleaning the barn and caring for the newly incontinent failing dog. Because I was focused on caring for my dying dog, and giving him his medication, food,turning him from side to side, and keeping him comfortable, I did not notice that I was sweating excessively. His morning care took me longer than normal, and I was slightly thrown when I had difficulty remembering where I kept some of the supplies, and in which room in the barn areas. My dog was still doing well,but the extra activity in the uncharacteristic June heat and high humidity left me dizzy and drained when I returned to the house. Despite fluids, a shower, and a rest,I did not recoup my energy for the remainder of that day. Remember also that we probably handle heat best in our twenties,and that as we grow and pass through this life,we may not manage heat as well as we remember we did.

Try to see the potential for heat exhaustion in family activities and chores in future, and certainly avoidance is the best strategy, when possible. Remember also that our pets are also very heat exhaustion and heat stroke prone,and take proper protective precautions for them too.

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