Jul 01 2009

The dangers of heat exhaustion

We are in a heat wave in southern England.  While some may be ecstatic with this heat, as it relates to tanning and such, I am at the other end of the spectrum.  So is my younger daughter.

I’ve had my say about the dangers of tanning as well as sun damage.  I’ve already mentioned my sun allergies with rashes and such.  But the big problem that public health officials would like to emphasise at this time, and rightly so, is heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

My younger daughter is susceptible to heat exhaustion.  Despite the fact that she is a big water-drinker, the heat wears her out.  Heat tends to make everyone rather lethargic.  Hence, the desire to sit or sleep under a tree.  My daughter complains of “not feeling well”.  This usually equates to stomachaches or nausea.  She does mention being “sick in the stomach”.  But, unusually, it leads to diarrhea.  Since heat exhaustion results from dehydration, diarrhea only worsens the dehydration.

Typical signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration are fatigue, headaches, nausea/vomiting, weakness, excessive sweating, paleness, and rapid pulse.  If not treated early and appropriately with fluids and electrolytes as well as cool air, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which is especially dangerous.  Heat stroke has led to death, even in young healthy individuals. 

Heat stroke signs include confusion and coma, excessively high blood pressure and very rapid heart rate.  Other signs of heat exhaustion are intensified.  Those most at risk of heat stroke are infants, elderly and athletes who have to play in the heat.  Heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention.

So, if you’re going to have your fun in the sun, take the necessary precautions with adequate sun protection and adequate and frequent hydration with fluids, especially those with some electrolytes.  I know if my daughter wears a hat, her susceptibility to exhaustion is reduced.  However, she usually recognises when it’s time to get indoors or to a cooler place.  For those who cannot recognise this, we should do our part to help them.