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This article was originally published in Issue 1 of our magazine.
What is heat stroke or even heat exhaustion? How many of you reading this article have experienced body overheating in one form or another? Can you specifically recall a time and place and how you felt during that situation?
A simple yet effective way to identify heat stroke or the potential of becoming a heat casualty (there are three forms of heat-related issues) is to keep in mind whether or not you’re urinating within a reasonable amount of time after consuming fluids. Basic rule of thumb, if you’re not peeing, you’re not drinking enough.
The three main types of heat-related issues are dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. These three types are listed here in severity from least damaging to the worst possible scenario.
Signs of Dehydration:
Dehydration is losing more fluid than you are taking in. If your body doesn’t have enough water or fluids such as Gatorade, Propel, or another type of fluid that has electrolytes, sodium, and potassium, then dehydration may occur and occur rapidly.
Don’t be fooled by the weather. People don’t just suffer from dehydration in searing heat. It could be a cool 50 degrees Fahrenheit out, but you can still suffer from dehydration if you are doing strenuous activities. One can perspire and not realize it until it’s too late. If your activity level is high, then you are burning calories and utilizing fluids; no matter if you feel hot or not — you are sweating. Those fluids must be replenished.
Signs of dehydration include headache, dry mouth, potential diarrhea, vomiting, fever, excessive sweating, cramps, and dizziness. In mild to moderate cases, the ability to reverse this problem is simple. Attempt to remove yourself from the heat exposure if possible and drink plenty of fluids. There is also such a thing called an “Oral IV,” which can be found at some sporting goods stores and will assist your body in rapid or increased hydration. They are great to have for emergency situations.
Signs of Heat Exhaustion:
Heat exhaustion occurs when being exposed to high temperatures for long periods of time. It can be the precursor to heat stroke and is identified by dizziness, weakness, paleness, heavy sweating, moist skin, nausea, vomiting, and even fainting. A person suffering from heat exhaustion can also have a fast and weak pulse. The best thing to do is to get the person affected to a cool, shady place, have them drink plenty of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluids, and have them take a cool shower or bath.
Signs of Heat Stroke:
Heat stroke, also known as sunstroke, is similar to running a high-grade fever, which can and will eventually result in damage to the brain and other vital organs. Each year during summer, we hear on the news that an elderly person died from heat stroke. Normally, this affects older people, but it can also affect an athlete hiking in the mountains on a nice warm summer day just as easily. It should be treated as a serious type of medical emergency. If you discover someone suffering from heat stroke, call 911, because this person is more than likely disoriented and needs IV fluids as soon as possible.
Heat stroke usually occurs with a steady progression from mild dehydration to serious illness. So, all of the signs and the symptoms listed for dehydration apply, as well. Adults can also experience nausea, vomiting, confusion, disorientation, and loss of consciousness, all the while experiencing seizures. Oh, and let’s not forget one of the telltale signs, a throbbing headache the size of Texas! In more extreme cases, heat syncope, loss of consciousness, or decreased LOC (level of consciousness) may occur, as well. In children and infants, we see febrile seizures, which are convulsions brought on by fever.
So, why does the body shut down, and why does high body temperature affect the brain and other organs? There is a thermometer in the brain called the hypothalamus. This is the portion of the brain that helps regulate body temperature, and if you overload this monitor built into your brain, it simply shuts down. Typically, this will occur around a core body temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Treatment for heat-related issues are pretty straightforward, unless you do not address the situation in a responsible amount of time. But, as with all emergencies, playing it safe and calling 911, if possible, is not a bad idea. In the event that you are in a remote area with no cell phone reception or emergency services are unavailable, there are things you can do. Following these simple steps will help:
Tools to always have with you:
When caught early, heat illnesses can be stopped and its effects can be reversed. It is a good idea to monitor how the patient feels and make sure they follow up with a visit to the doctor, just to make sure that everything is fine. Remember that prevention is the best medicine; don’t forget to drink the proper fluids when you are active.
Certified as an EMT-I since 1994, Charles Ferrera spent eight years as an EMT-I on emergency transport units for a fire department. He also has eight years experience as a firefighter and is currently a government contractor for the U.S. State Department High Threat Division. Assigned to Baghdad from 2006-2009, he served in Iraq as a PSS/EMT-I under a U.S. DOS contract. Aside from being an American Heart Basic Life Support instructor for health care providers, he is ACLS Advanced Cardiac Life Support certified and is currently a firearms and tactical medical instructor for Falcon Operations Group (www.falconops.net).