Know the signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion and when to take action
Chattanooga has had eight consecutive days with temperatures at or above 90 degrees, and exposure to this consistent heat can be harmful to your body.
More than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year, while heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable.
You should take proactive steps to limit overheating, such as drinking water.
When we become dehydrated, our body does not sweat as much, which is its natural cooling process. Our bodies can then no longer compensate, and we overheat.
"Heat related illnesses can be incredibly dangerous, and they can become dangerous quickly. The most important things are to wear light, loose long clothing, and make sure you are drinking water all the time when you are in the heat," Dr. Jacqueline Gentry of CHI Memorial warned.
A minor heat illness is heat rash in which red bumps develop on your skin when you've had too much sun exposure.
"The step after that is often heat cramps, which is where you literally start getting cramps in your muscles because you've gotten too much sun exposure and your body has gotten too hot and you can't cool yourself off anymore," stated Gentry.
The two more serious conditions are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion requires action on your part, but heat stroke is a medical emergency.
"Initially, you might have excessive sweating, and then your skin can become cool and clammy. And then, your skin can actually get more flushed and more red and that's a sign that you are getting towards heat stroke," Gentry explained the progression of symptoms.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include:
- Heavy sweating
- Fast, weak pulse
- Cold, pale, and clammy skin
- Nausea or vomiting.
"They need to get indoors where it is air conditioned. They need to start drinking plenty of water. That might be a point where you need to start replacing your electrolytes with something like Gatorade. And, lay down and make sure that your clothes are loose and even remove excess clothing,” advised Gentry.
If symptoms of heat exhaustion last longer than an hour, seek medical attention.
Symptoms of the more serious heat stroke include:
- Body temperature of 103°F or higher
- Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
- Fast, strong pulse
- Loss of consciousness
Call 911 for medical care immediately.
Certain people are more susceptible to heat related illnesses.
"The younger kids are at more risk. The elderly are at more risk. People with chronic health conditions, like diabetes, hypertension. Anybody who is on a medication that depletes their salt level, or if you are on a salt restricted diet," Gentry said.
She also recommended to take slow sips of water throughout the day instead of downing water all at once.
For extended periods in the heat or after excessive sweating, you should also have a sports drink with electrolytes or coconut water.
More in depth identification of heat-related symptoms and steps to take for treatment can be found through the CDC.