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Different Kinds of Heat Emergencies

Posted on June 25, 2013

Different Kinds of Heat Emergencies

The hazy, hot days of summer are here. Children, the elderly, and people who are excessively overweight have a higher risk of developing heat illness in this weather. People taking certain medications or drinking alcohol also have a higher risk. Heat illness falls into three categories: heat cramps, heat exhausting and heat stroke.

Although heat illness can be caused by prolonged exposure to extreme heat, it is not the only risk.

The National Institutes for Health lists other risk factors, including:

  • Alcohol use
  • Dehydration
  • Heart disease
  • High temperatures or humidity
  • Medications such as beta blockers, diuretics, neuroleptics, phenothiazines, and anticholinergics
  • Prolonged or excessive exercise
  • Sweat gland problems
  • Wearing too much clothing

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

It is important to be mindful of the symptoms of heat illness regardless of your age and physical condition. Extreme heat can cause your body to feel fatigue, sweat profusely, experience thirst and muscle cramps:

  • Headache,
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Cool, moist skin
  • Dark urine
  • Nausea and vomiting

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke, the most serious heat illness, occurs when the body overheats and is unable to cool down. Potentially fatal, left untreated it also can cause organ damage such as kidney failure. Although exercising or overexerting yourself in the heat at any age can contribute to heat stroke, it is not the only risk factor:

  • High body temperature
  • Confusion
  • Loss of coordination
  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Throbbing headache
  • Seizures, coma

Tips from the Centers for Disease Control

When possible avoid heavy work, extreme heat, high humidity and sun exposure:

  • Monitor your physical condition and that of your co-workers for signs or symptoms of heat illnesses.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton.
  • Avoid non-breathable synthetic clothing.
  • Gradually build up to heavy work.
  • Schedule heavy work during the coolest parts of day.
  • Take more breaks when working in high heat and humidity.
  • Take breaks in the shade or a cool area.
  • Drink water frequently, so you remain hydrated. Drink enough water that you never become thirsty.
  • Be aware that protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat-related illnesses.

Courtesy of emergency medicine physician Melissa Harper, M.D., of EmCare, on behalf of Saint Peter’s University Hospital. Visit our website to learn more about the dangers of heat stroke.