Summer officially starts today, June 21. Now is the time to prepare for extreme heat events. While the safest course of action during hot days is to stay inside in an air-conditioned room, Marines may not have that option. So it is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illness and know how to respond. Also keep in mind that children, the elderly, sick and those who are overweight are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat. Pets are also susceptible to heat illnesses.
Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke all arise from overexertion coupled with overheating. Even moderate physical activity, such as a pickup basketball game or day hike, can lead to heat illness if proper precautions are not taken. Let’s walk through the types of heat illnesses. For more in-depth information on extreme heat, click here.
Heat cramps are the earliest and least dangerous stage of heat illness; this cramping is the body’s warning system, letting you know it’s time to slow down, get out of the sun, and drink some water immediately. Heat cramps are characterized by muscle spasms and intense sweating. If untreated, heat cramps can turn into heat exhaustion.
Heat exhaustion manifests as nausea, profuse sweating and weakness. Treatment includes moving the affected person into a cool and shady area out of the sun, having them drink water or a sports drink, and putting a cool damp towel on their forehead. While heat exhaustion is dangerous, heat stroke can be fatal.
Heat stoke is characterized by hot, dry skin and a lack of sweating despite the high temperature. Intense nausea, headaches and signs of disorientation or confusion are other symptoms. It is possible for those suffering heat stroke to have either rapid or shallow heartbeats, and fainting can occur. If you believe someone is suffering from heat stroke, immediately call 911. Move them to a cool location out of the sun, put a cool wet towel on their forehead and give them water or a sports drink if they are conscious.
All heat-related illnesses should be taken seriously and treated immediately. Something as simple as packing extra water or taking breaks from activity can go a long way.