People who love to do outdoor activities in the summer may face the serious threat of heat exhaustion. Campers, hikers and backpackers are especially at risk when doing so in hot weather. You must be aware of the warning signs, how to avoid heat exhaustion, and what to do if it occurs.
What is heat exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion is a medical condition that develops when the body is exposed to conditions that cause it to overheat. It is the stage before heat stroke, which is potentially life threatening. It happens most often when you are not used to constant heat and perform some type of exercise in hot conditions. If you are dehydrated, your body is unable to cool itself by sweating, because there is not enough available moisture. Heat exhaustion occurs when your body reaches a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can also cause heat exhaustion.
Dangers of heat exhaustion
There is a difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke happens when heat exhaustion is left untreated, and this next stage condition can lead to damage to the organs of the body. To avoid this, become familiar with the symptoms of heat exhaustion.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion
The signs of heat exhaustion include feeling very thirsty, weakness, tiredness, dizziness, feeling faint, sweating profusely, flushed skin, muscle cramps, nausea and/or vomiting, fast heartbeat, dark urine or lack of urination. When your condition has moved beyond heat exhaustion to heat stroke, you may experience disorientation, mental confusion, seizures and you may lose consciousness.
Treatment for heat exhaustion
The first course of action is to rest in a place that is cool. It is ideal to move into a shady area where you can lie down. You should rest for at least 30 minutes or more. Do not return into the hot sunlight if you are having severe symptoms. Try resuming activities after the sun is lower or if it goes behind clouds. Take off any extra layers of clothing as this can help your body to cool. The air circulation around your body will help to cool you down.
Apply wet pack or even cold packs to cool the skin. You can also fan your wet skin to cool it more quickly. Placing cool or cold items under the armpits and around your neck can also help your body to cool off faster.
Hydrate yourself by drinking water, juice or sports drinks if you have them. The goal is to hydrate your body and replenish the fluids that your body has lost. Sports drinks that contain sodium can help in replacing the electrolytes that are depleted. If you or a fellow camper or hiker becomes confused, it is time to seek emergency help. The person should be treated with the steps above and placed in a safe area until help arrives.
How to avoid heat exhaustion
- Start early and become acclimated: Gradual exposure to activity in hot weather can help you to acclimate your body and lessen the chance of heat exhaustion. This process takes time, but it’s something that everyone should do in preparation for outdoor activities in hot climates.
- Plan your trip at the right time: Tune in to the weather for the region you’ll be in. If there is a heatwave coming, you should put off the trip until the weather will be more cooperative.
- Plan hikes with rest time allowances: If you’re planning an all day hike, allow for a good amount of time to stop in a shady place and rest. This can help you to avoid becoming overheated and ill on the excursion. You should also check on your hiking partners to make sure that they are in good shape.
- Wear the right clothing: The best clothing to wear when out in the heat is light in color, of lightweight materials and loosely fitting the light colors reflect the heat away from your body. Heavy clothing that is dark in color or tight fitting will cause your body to heat up and retain the heat more quickly.
- Protect yourself from sunburn: Sunburns make it harder for your body to get rid of excessive heat build up. Use a sunscreen of a minimum of SPF 15, and re-apply it several times as sweat will wash away your protection. You should also wear sunglasses and a hat to protect you from the bright rays of the sun.
- Stay hydrated: You should plan on drinking plenty of water when being active in hot weather. A minimum of three liters of water is recommended throughout the day. Sports drinks are also recommended to keep your electrolyte levels in balance.
- Cool your skin when you get too hot: When the weather is hot and you’re being active, sprinkle cool water on your skin and on your clothing. This will help to cool your skin off and it will help you to avoid overheating. Some hikers carry a bandana and periodically soak it in water, then put it around the neck to help them stay cool. It’s better to prevent heat exhaustion than to have to treat it.
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