Here is how you can protect yourself from heat stroke and heat exhaustion this summer season

by Dr. Keni Ravish Rajiv

It is not unusual to experience heatwaves during the summer season in India. The merciless heat can make people feel intensely uncomfortable and in some cases, can be fatal, too. Issues like Heat stroke and Heat exhaustion are some of the common illnesses caused by the scorching summer heat.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is overheated resulting in a fever of up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas, heat stroke is defined as a sudden rise in body temperature. In heat stroke, your body skips past the symptoms of heat exhaustion and goes straight to heat stroke, making it fatal and a serious medical emergency.

How is heat stroke different from heat exhaustion?

Sweating is the most common differentiator between heatstroke and exhaustion. A person suffering from heat exhaustion is usually characterized by heavy sweating, whereas those dealing with heat stroke experience decreased sweating. Other symptoms that help in identifying heat stroke and exhaustion include -

Heat Exhaustion

  • Agitation
  • Cool and clammy skin
  • Confusion or anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Fainting
  • Muscle aches and cramps
  • Nausea
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Weakness and fatigue.

Heat Stroke

  • Confusion, delirium or loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions
  • Decreased urination and/or blood in urine or stool
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hot and flushed skin.

How can you prevent yourself from heat stroke and heat exhaustion?

Heat stroke and exhaustion are predictable and preventable. By taking the below measures you can keep these summer illnesses at bay -

  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothes and avoid wearing tight-fitting or excess clothes as they won't allow your body to cool properly.
  • While stepping out, apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and wear a hat/cap and sunglasses to cover your body and protect yourself from sunburn.
  • Stay hydrated and consume plenty of fluids to maintain your body temperature.
  • Avoid strenuous activities and limit the time spent working or exercising in the heat.
  • Take medications only after consulting your doctor as certain medications can increase your body temperature and may affect you adversely.

How can heat stroke or heat exhaustion be treated?

The treatment for heat stroke and exhaustion usually focuses on reducing your body temperature to normal. To do so, your doctor may adopt take the following steps -

  • Immerse yourself in a bath of ice or water to lower your body temperature. This also helps in reducing the risk of death and organ damage.
  • Make use of evaporation technique - In this method, cold water is misted on your body while warm air is fanned over you, causing the water to evaporate quickly and resulting in a lowering of your body temperature.
  • Cover your body with ice packs and cooling blankets to cool your body.
  • Prescribe your medications to help you avoid shivering as shivering can increase your body temperature and can make the treatment less effective.

Lastly, remember that you take breaks and stay cool to prevent yourself from heat stroke and exhaustion. Take frequent breaks in the shade or indoors, and use a fan or air conditioning to stay cool if you are stepping out or are working in the scorching heat.