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What Is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is an illness that typically occurs during the summer months when individuals are suffering from dehydration and have been exposed to high temperatures. Basically, the body’s core temperature becomes so hot that normal cooling processes (such as sweating) cannot help it cool down, and it loses more fluids than can be replaced.

There are two types of heat exhaustion:

  • water depletion, which includes symptoms such as headaches, weakness, excessive thirst, and fainting spells; and
  • salt depletion, which includes symptoms such as dizziness, muscle cramps, and nausea and/or vomiting.

Heat exhaustion should not be confused with heat stroke, a more serious illness that, if not treated, can result in damage to the brain and vital organs or, in some cases, death.

What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion?

Common symptoms of heat exhaustion include

  • profuse sweating;
  • dark-colored urine;
  • dizziness or fainting;
  • rapid heartbeat;
  • confusion;
  • nausea or vomiting;
  • excessive thirst;
  • fatigue;
  • muscle or abdominal cramps;
  • headaches; and
  • pale, clammy skin.

Who is at risk for heat exhaustion?

Athletic adults and children who have rigorous practices in the summer are more likely to succumb to heat exhaustion. Military personnel and migrant workers are also at risk.

Other risk factors include:

  • dehydration;
  • certain illnesses or chronic disabilities;
  • age (elderly people or children under the age of five);
  • physical exertion;
  • pregnancy;
  • alcohol intake; and
  • some medications.


How can you prevent heat exhaustion?

Always check the temperature before going outside and, if possible, do not let your child venture out for long periods of time when the heat index is high. You should also apply sunscreen to your child and dress them in loose fitting clothes and a hat to protect their scalp and face.

If your child must stay outside, make sure that they drink plenty of fluids and take frequent breaks in the shade, about once every hour. Be aware of all the aforementioned symptoms and risk factors and take additional precautions.

What is the treatment for heat exhaustion?

If you believe that your child is suffering from heat exhaustion, you should immediately remove them from the heat and place them in an air-conditioned space or in the nearest shady spot. Make sure they drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids and let them use any cooling devices you have access to (i.e. a cold shower or bath, fans, icepacks, etc.).

If any of these treatments fail to relieve their symptoms within 30 minutes, you should seek immediate medical attention.

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