Heat Exhaustion: Causes, Signs + Symptoms, & Prevention


Heat exhaustion is one of three heat-related syndromes, with heat cramps being the mildest and heatstroke being the most severe. Luckily, heat exhaustion can be prevented if you are aware of the causes, symptoms, and the correct way to prevent the syndrome.


The main causes of heat exhaustion includes:

  • Strenuous Exercise/Physical Activity in Hot Weather

  • Dehydration

  • Alcohol Use

  • Overdressing

Heat exhaustion is commonly seen in those that are conducting a high level of physical activity in extreme temperatures, such as spring sports.


There are a few risk factors that can make certain people prone to heat exhaustion:

  • Young or Old Age

Children under four and adults above 65 are at higher risk of heat exhaustion. In young kids, the body's ability to regulate its temperature isn't fully developed yet. In older adults, the body's ability to regulate its temperature may be reduced by illness, medications, or other factors in older adults.

  • Certain Medications

Certain medications can affect your body's ability to stay hydrated and respond appropriately to heat. This commonly includes those used to treat high blood pressure and heart problems, reduce allergy symptoms, calm you, or reduce psychiatric symptoms, such as delusions.

  • Obesity

Carrying excess weight can affect your body's ability to regulate its temperature and cause your body to retain more heat.

  • Sudden Temperature Changes

You can be more susceptible to heat exhaustion if you are not used to the heat. Traveling from a cold climate to a warm one or living in an area that has experienced a heat wave can put you at risk of heat exhaustion because your body hasn't had a chance to get used to the higher temperatures.

  • High Heat Index

The heat index is a single temperature value that considers how both the outdoor temperature and humidity make you feel. When the humidity is high, your sweat can't evaporate as easily and your body has more difficulty cooling itself, making you prone to heat exhaustion and heatstroke.


Signs + Symptoms:

  • Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat

  • Heavy Sweating

  • Faintness

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue

  • Weak, rapid pulse

  • Low Blood Pressure upon standing

  • Muscle Cramps

  • Nausea

  • Headache

Prevention:

  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitted clothing.

  • Wear sunscreen when you are out in the sun.

  • Stay hydrated - water and electrolyte infused drinks are you best options. It's important to hydrate before, during, and after exercise or physical activity outside.

  • Avoid caffeine + alcohol.

  • If possible, avoid the hottest parts of the day. Try to schedule your outside activities for either the morning or evening hours.

  • Get acclimated to the hotter temperatures before you spend excessive hours of your day in the heat.

  • If you are considered to be at risk for heat exhaustion, take the correct precautions.

If you ever suspect that you are becoming a victim to heat exhaustion, it's important to stop your activity and go indoors immediately. Try to cool off by drinking water, but if symptoms do not subside within one hour, it's necessary to seek medical care.

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