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Summer conditions: What is heat exhaustion?

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Heat exhaustion occurs once the body becomes overheated. It is due to the malfunction of the cooling system in the body to preserve the normal core temperature.

What are the causes?

The main cause of heat exhaustion is inability of the cooling mechanism in the body to preserve the normal core body temperature. The condition can occur among adults, children and even animals.

The factors that increases the likelihood for heat exhaustion to arise include:

  • Dehydration
  • Engaging in exercise or work in a warm or hot environment
  • Alcohol intake
  • Using clothes that prevents the evaporative cooling of the body

Children below 5 years of age and the elderly are at higher risk for ending up with heat exhaustion.

What are the signs of heat exhaustion?

heat exhaustion
Any constricting clothing must be removed since it inhibits evaporative cooling.
  • Muscle cramping
  • Weakness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weak and rapid pulse rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Thirst
  • Dizziness and/or fainting

Generally, an individual with heat exhaustion has an elevated body core temperature.

When to consult a doctor?

An individual suspected with heat exhaustion must be assessed by a doctor if symptoms are present.

Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent the condition from worsening and potentially progressing to heat stroke along with other complications.

Management of heat exhaustion

The treatment for heat exhaustion must be started right away if an individual is suspected with the condition. In most cases, the initial treatment is evaporative cooling and transferring the individual away from the warm environment.

  • Transfer the individual to a shaded or cool area while waiting for the emergency team.
  • The individual should lie down with the legs raised higher than the level of the heart.
  • Any constricting clothing must be removed since it inhibits evaporative cooling.
  • The cooling can be aided by spraying the skin with cool water and turn on an electric fan to allow the circulation of air to increase evaporative cooling.
  • Provide the individual with cool beverages or sports drinks.

In some instances, intravenous fluids might be administered to deal with dehydration.

Disclaimer / More Information

The information posted on this page on heat exhaustion is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to properly care for this heat-related illness, register for first aid training at one of our training centers located throughout Canada. The training centers are in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Victoria, Surrey, Mississauga, Winnipeg, Red Deer, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.

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