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How to Prevent Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion

Updated on August 29, 2011

Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are most often associated with hot, humid weather, but can occur at any time. The single largest group of individuals affected each year by these heat-related illnesses are laborers working outdoors. Also affected in proportionately greater numbers than the general population are athletes, infants and the elderly.

Heat exhaustion is the milder of these two heat-related illnesses and is usually resolved by drinking fluids and cooling off. Body temperature is usually within normal limits to slightly elevated. The symptoms are similar to that of mild dehydration.

Heat stroke can be a life-threatening condition. It is usually preceded by untreated heat exhaustion and quickly involves the central nervous system and can cause damage or failure to internal organs. Heat stroke is a medical emergency.

Knowing what conditions contribute to heat stroke and exhaustion and being able to recognize their signs and symptoms will go a long way toward preventing a health emergency.


Signs of Dehydration

Mild Dehydration
Dry skin
Dry, sticky mouth
Decreased urination
Severe Dehydration
Extreme thirst
Lack of sweating
Rapid heartbeat
Low blood pressure
Little or no urination
Skin and mucous membranes dry
Irritability or confusion

Recognize, Prevent, Treat Dehydration

Adequate Fluid Intake Important

The importance of adequate hydration--intake of fluids--should not be overlooked any time of the year. Dehydration, the lack of adequate fluids in the body, is one of the prime factors associated with heat stroke and heat exhaustion. The body's adequate fluid balance allows it to maintain your core body temperature within normal limits.

Many times just staying hydrated can prevent the onset of these heat-related conditions. Moisture is lost from the body not only through urine, but also perspiration and respiration. Dehydration can become serious in a short period of time, especially if vomiting, diarrhea or profuse sweating is present.

Health care practitioners for the most part still recommend drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. When you've physically exerted yourself, are exposed to high temperatures, or spending extended periods of time in even moderately high temperatures, you need to drink even more fluids than this periodically.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caution that during periods of extreme heat--defined as temperatures higher than normal in an area-- you should drink 16 ounces to 32 ounces of fluid every hour. If you are on doctor-ordered fluid or sodium restrictions, check with your health care provider to learn what's best for you.

Choose non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic cool beverages to quench your thirst. Water is the preferred fluid, but sports drinks and juices will also promote adequate hydration. Avoid alcohol-containing beverages.

If you're a healthy adult, at the first signs of dehydration, begin drinking cool fluids. Sip the fluids and remember that dehydration is also about an excess loss of salt. Many sport drinks contain low amounts of sodium which can be helpful in maintaining good fluid balance.

Seek medical attention if you become confused, dizzy, are unable to urinate or have extreme thirst.

Prevention Strategies

In addition to staying hydrated, having access to an area with air conditioning is the next most important prevention strategy for heat-related illnesses. The CDC advises that fans are adequate for cooling your body when the temperature is 90 degrees or less, but these appliances are inadequate for cooling in higher temperatures.

If you or a loved one don't live where air conditioning is available, go to a public area such as the library, senior center, or the mall where air conditioning is available. During periods of extreme heat, many cities make cooling stations available to the general public during daytime hours.

If you work or are physically active outdoors, take frequent cooling-off breaks, preferably in the shade and replenish fluids. Avoid strenuous outdoor activity from the hours of 10 AM to 4 PM each day. If you're outside and feel overheated, wet yourself with water, particularly your head and upper body. The evaporation of the water from your body will help to cool you down.

Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and eyes from the sun and to aid in keeping your head cool.

Check frequently on neighbors, friends or family who may have no other support system. Phone or visit them daily. If you know of someone who doesn't have air conditioning, offer to take them somewhere where they can be cool or help them arrange for transportation.

Never leave anyone in a vehicle during periods of extreme heat. The heat builds up quickly when the vehicle isn't running. Take the same precautions with your pets.

Heat Exhaustion Symptoms

Heat Exhaustion
General weakness or discomfort

First Aid for Heat Exhaustion

Heat Exhaustion

Healthy individuals' bodies will generally adapt to a hot environment over a number of weeks, if adequate fluid intake is maintained. During the adaptation process, and for infants, the elderly and those with some chronic illnesses, heat exhaustion remains a possibility in a hot environment.

Keep in mind that when in a hot environment that also has high humidity, your body's natural self-cooling ability--evaporation of perspiration--can't work as efficiently/

The use of some medications can also contribute to the increased potential for the development of heat exhaustion, including diuretics, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, antihistamines, laxatives and benzodiazepines. Discuss your medications and your health conditions with your health care provider to learn if you may be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.

People whose internal cooling mechanisms are impaired are also at risk to develop heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Infants' cooling mechanisms have not fully developed, placing them at increased risk and the elderly, whose internal cooling systems may not be functioning adequately are also at increased risk.

Remember that infants have no way of verbally expressing they are hot or uncomfortable verbally. Elderly people, often outwardly tolerant of increased environmental temperatures, may not realize the potential for heat-related illnesses.

Heat exhaustion may develop over a period of hours or days. It is usually successfully treated by ensuring adequate fluid intake and cooling the body. Seek medical attention if symptoms of heat exhaustion do not respond to these efforts.

Prevention of heat exhaustion includes avoiding prolonged exposure to a hot, humid environment; maintain adequate fluid intake; seek a cooler environment when beginning symptoms of heat exhaustion noticed. Avoid strenuous activity during hot weather or the hottest part of the day.

Remember that alcohol can cause your natural body temperature regulator to work improperly.

Heat Stroke Symptoms

Heat Stroke Symptoms
Body temperature 104 or higher
Little or no sweating
Rapid breathing
Rapid heartbeat
Flushed skin
Difficult speech
Flushed skin

First Aid for Heat Stroke

Heat Stroke or Heatstroke

Heat stroke develops from untreated heat exhaustion or heat cramps. Your body's core temperature rises to 104 degrees F or higher. This is a medical emergency; seek help immediately. Brain damage, organ failure and even death can occur.

Prevention of heat stroke is early management of the symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat cramps.

Classic heat stroke comes about from exposure to high temperatures and tends to develop slowly. Exertional heat stroke, which results from strenuous physical activity, tends to develop quickly.

Controllable factors associated with the onset of heat stroke, in addition to high environmental temperatures or strenuous physical activity are wearing too heavy or restrictive clothing to prevent your body from cooling itself, drinking alcoholic beverages and dehydration.

Prevention of heat stroke includes wearing lightweight, loose-fitting clothing; find a cooler environment; drink plenty of fluids; and avoid physically-strenuous activity in the heat.


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    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Debbie Roberts, kudos to you for encouraging your children to drink water. The heat and humidity can take a toll on anyone and active children are certainly at risk for heat-related problems.

      I appreciate your read and comments. Thank you for SHARING.

    • debbie roberts profile image

      Debbie Roberts 

      7 years ago from Greece

      It can get very hot here in Greece and luckily I have managed to teach the children the importance of staying hydrated by drinking water.

      Many people don't realize how important staying hydrated is or cannot even recognize the signs. Your hub is very informative on what people should be aware of and look out for.

      Voted up and shared.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Brett.Tesol, thanks for the tip about Coke and salt. And you're so right about drinking liquids throughout the day, even when not thirsty. It's important that at least half of the liquid be without caffeine.

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett C 

      7 years ago from Asia

      Great hub, something very important for those not used to the heat. A cheap and really good remedy is Coke with a teaspoon of salt added (advised by a couple of doctors I know). However, the most important thing is to drink regularly, even when not thirsty. I drink about 2litres of water a day, plus coffee and other drinks.

      Thanks for SHARING. Up, useful, interesting, tweeted and pinned (Pinterest).

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Thanks, Denise. I'm following the advice that anyone who doesn't have access to air conditioning at home should go to places where it is available to prevent any heat-related illnesses.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Ugghhh, that is awful. I've been watching the nation's weather and OK was one of the hardest hit during the scorcher earlier this summer. Hope it didn't go out then? Stay cool and I agree-go stay in the theatre and watch some flicks...or wherever!

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Denise, thanks for sharing your experience. I've found that I become easily dehydrated, so a water bottle is an absolute must wherever I go.

      The central air in my home is awaiting repair. I've been without air conditioning for almost two weeks in this Oklahoma heat wave, so I've availed myself of frequenting as many air conditioned venues as I can.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi LL-I recently read another hub about heat exhaustion and had commented that during one of my routine Sunday walks I had experienced this. It was during the wave of scorching temperatures and I left the house that day without my water bottle for some reason.

      I almost made it back home when I felt nauseated and dizzy. I wanted to stop but was afraid I would not get back up. It was shocking how suddenly it seemed to have come on.

      I was fine after I got home and took a long, cool shower and rested in my air conditioned house drinking lots of water. But, it is no wonder that people fall out with the hot temps!

      Nice hub with useful info and I liked the chart.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma City

      I agree, Fay. I am not a very heat tolerant person, even in the winter time. I have to be very conscientious about drinking plenty of fluids.

    • profile image

      Fay Paxton 

      8 years ago

      Thanks for this informative hub. I once almost crossed that precipice, working outside on a very hot day. It is a horrible feeling.


    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Thanks, Cycling Fitness. I'm assuming you take precautions against the effects of heat when cycling. Do you mind if I ask your preferred fluid for hydration? Do you carry salt tabs?

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 

      8 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Nice hub, really informative


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