Heat Exhaustion: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment


Heat Exhaustion: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Did you know prolonged exposure to intense heat and humidity can place undue stress on the body and potentially lead to heat-related illnesses?

Yes, you heard that right!

One such condition is heat exhaustion, which occurs when the body becomes overwhelmed by heat and is no longer able to cool itself.

Heat exhaustion develops when a person's body works hard to cool the core temperature through sweating but struggles to keep up. Common symptoms of body heat include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and a fast pulse. It represents the body's response to overheating and inability to regulate its internal thermostat. While not life-threatening, heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke without intervention and care. Read on as we discuss the symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention of heat exhaustion here. 

What are the Heat Exhaustion Symptoms?

Some common signs that the body may be suffering from heat exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating 
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness or headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pale, ashen or moist skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tingling in the hands, feet or lips
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Normal or slightly elevated body temperature
  • Cool, moist skin with goosebumps
  • Dark urine output

How to Treat Heat Exhaustion?

If you experience heat exhaustion symptoms, moving to a cooler environment is necessary as treat heat exhaustion. Seeking air-conditioned shelter is ideal, but at a minimum, find relief in the shade away from direct sunlight.

Some additional recommended approaches include:

  • Slowly drink plenty of hydrating fluids, such as sports drinks, to replenish lost electrolytes. Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided
  • Remove or loosen any constrictive clothing layers
  • Take a cooling shower, or bath or lightly sponge the skin with cool water
  • Apply other measures to lower the body temperature, like the use of fans or wet towels.

Improvement should occur within 15 minutes. However, if symptoms fail to adequately subside, it is advised to visit a doctor immediately for heat exhaustion treatment, as heat exhaustion can potentially progress to a more severe heat stroke without proper resolution.

Causes of Heat Exhaustion

Under normal circumstances, the body has an effective natural cooling mechanism where sweat evaporates off the skin's surface, helping to regulate one's internal temperature. However, during times of elevated physical exertion, particularly in hot and humid weather conditions, maintaining the optimal core temperature can become increasingly challenging.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is no longer able to dissipate enough heat to keep itself from rising to an unhealthily high degree. Strenuous activity often results in considerable fluid and electrolyte loss through perspiration. Electrolytes like sodium and potassium play a key role in ensuring various bodily processes function smoothly.

If one's fluids and electrolytes drop to deficient levels due to inadequate rehydration and replenishment, dehydration can set in. As water and minerals are crucial for metabolism and thermoregulation, dehydration makes it more difficult for the body to manage heat efficiently. As a result, there is an elevated risk of temperature deregulation, leading to a heat-related illness such as heat exhaustion.

Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke

When body temperature rises to an extreme level, it leads to heat exhaustion, and if it is left untreated, heat exhaustion may progress to heatstroke. Notably, heat exhaustion and heatstroke can impart dangerous impacts like impaired thinking, disorientation, or even loss of consciousness. During heat exhaustion, one is typically still mentally aware as the internal temperature remains under 103°F.

While less prevalent than heat exhaustion, heatstroke introduces significant risks by placing an increased burden on crucial organs like the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver. 

Risk Factors for Heat Exhaustion

A person's risk of experiencing heat-related illness is closely tied to the heat index, a measurement combining temperature and humidity levels into a single value representing how hot conditions feel. When relative humidity exceeds 60%, sweating becomes less effective at cooling the body through evaporation.

The probability of issues arising grows substantially once the heat index reaches or surpasses 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It is wise to pay close attention to reported heat index values, especially during prolonged heat waves, as direct sunlight can further elevate perceived temperatures.

Other than this, certain people are particularly vulnerable to heat exhaustion, depending on:

  • Age: Infants and young children up to 4 years old and adults over 65 years old may face greater challenges adapting to rising heat levels
  • Medical condition: Certain chronic diseases impacting major organ systems like the heart, lungs or kidneys, disorders related to body weight management, high blood pressure or diabetes and other conditions might make you prone to heat exhaustion
  • Medicine usage: Certain medicines like diuretics, tranquillizers, and prescriptions for heart or blood pressure increase the chance of heat exhaustion
  • Obesity: Being overweight might make it harder for your body to control its temperature and force it to retain more heat

How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion?

Here are a few tips you can follow to avoid heat exhaustion:

  • Wear loose, breathable clothes to allow the body to circulate air and cool effectively. Tight or excessive layers interfere with temperature regulation.
  • Stay hydrated through frequent fluid intake to help your body sweat and maintain a healthy temperature. Sports drinks replenish electrolytes lost through sweating.
  • Protect skin from sunburn using a hat, sunglasses, and broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or greater. Reapply generously every 2 hours or more often when sweating or swimming. 
  • Schedule strenuous activities for cooler morning or evening hours if possible. Take breaks in shaded, air-conditioned areas to rest and hydrate during peak heat.
  • If certain medical conditions or prior illnesses increase heat sensitivity, act promptly at first signs of distress and limit direct sun or heat when risk levels are elevated. 

To Conclude

While hot summer weather presents risks, vigilance and proper care like remaining hydrated, limiting direct sun exposure when possible, dressing appropriately and being mindful of individual risk profiles go a long way in avoiding and recovering well from heat exhaustion and heatstroke. 

By recognising early signs of heat exhaustion and promptly implementing cooling measures, serious deterioration into heatstroke can typically be averted. If the condition seriously worsens, hospitalisation might be necessary. Even a few days in the hospital can eat up your savings. That’s why having health insurance is essential for everyone, especially today when healthcare costs are at an all-time high. If you too are looking for one to cover your family, let our experts guide you through finding the right policy from Care Health Insurance. 

>> Also Read: How to Reduce Body Heat & Stay Cool in Summer


The above information is for reference purposes only: Policy Assurance and Claims at the underwriter's discretion.

All plan features, benefits, coverage, and claims underwriting are subject to policy terms and conditions. Kindly refer to the brochure, sales prospectus, and policy documents carefully.

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