Recognize the Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion/Heat Stroke

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Like many folks, I am a weekend warrior. I often overexert myself working in my garden on the weekend. In the past, I have pushed myself pretty far before I realized it when the heat and humidity were both very high.

Heat-related illnesses should not be taken lightly. They can range from fatigue and cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke and can increase the risk of complications from other illnesses such as coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, emphysema or asthma. Symptoms to watch for are:

  • Cramps due to excessive sweating typically develop in the thigh muscles indicating a deficiency of electrolytes. Taking in electrolytes through fruit or sports drinks can help alleviate this.
  • Heat exhaustion symptoms include nausea, chills, dizziness, and dehydration. Once you notice these symptoms, stop what you’re doing and cool off. Apply wet towels to help your body cool.
  • Heat stroke is much more serious. Symptoms include a lack of sweat, headache, rapid pulse, altered mental state, confusion, lethargy, seizures, and even unconsciousness and a body temperature over 101 F.

The body is efficient at maintaining a normal body temperature through evaporation of sweat. On really hot days, with maximum exertion, a person can sweat up to two quarts an hour. While you can’t control the heat and humidity, you can control your activity level. Be aware of your own limitations. When you begin to notice the first signs of heat illness, reduce or stop activity, get in the shade, remove excess clothing, apply cool cloths to help lower body temperature, drink fluids, and take it easy.

Drink plain, old-fashioned water to replace fluids if you’ve been outside for several hours. If you’ve been sweating profusely for more than a few hours, you’ll need to replace electrolytes, too. Eat a banana, drink fruit juices, or drink a sports drink that provides electrolytes. As I get older, I tend to sit and rest in the shade with a cool drink and snack and contemplate my garden almost as much as I work in it.

Summer is in its prime. There are still plenty of hot, humid days ahead. Be aware of the symptoms and risks of heat-related illness and stop and take a break to avoid illness related to overheating.