Everything You Need to Know About Heat Exhaustion

Everything You Need to Know About Heat Exhaustion

By Dr. Dmitry Volfson

We often welcome the summer heat, but when it starts to interfere with our body's ability to cool off, it can become too much of a good thing. Whether you’re on the beach or enjoying a neighborhood barbecue, here are some tips to keep in mind to help ward off heat exhaustion.

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is one of the most common heat-related reasons people seek medical care. It's one of three syndromes caused by getting too much heat. The other two include heat cramps, which is the early stage of heat exhaustion, as well as heat syncope or stroke, which is considered the severe stage.

What causes it?

Heat exhaustion is caused by the body's inability to cool itself off. This can be exacerbated by factors such as:

- Exposure to high temperatures or high humidity

- Strenuous exercise

- Poor hydration

- Inappropriate attire that exposes the skin to the sun

- Consumption of alcohol

Signs and symptoms

Look out for the following important warning signs of heat exhaustion:

- Heavy sweating with pale, ashen or moist skin

- Rapid heart rate (may be weak or strong)

- Fatigue, weakness, dizziness, feeling faint

- nausea or vomiting

- headaches or muscle cramping

- excessive thirst

- young children with a core body temperature between 100.4F and 104F (38C - 40C)

If you are experiencing symptoms such as confusion, lethargy, a core body temperature higher than 104ºF (40ºC) or have stopped sweating with skin that is hot and dry to the touch, you could be having heat stroke. Please stop by your nearest CityMD for immediate assistance.


Risk factors

Adults over the age of 65 years and children under the age of four are particularly at risk. Other risk factors include chronic medical conditions such as obesity and taking the following medications or drugs:

- High blood pressure medications, including beta-blockers and diuretics

- Antihistamines

- Tranquilizers, anti-psychotics and other mood-altering medications

- Cocaine or amphetamines

How to treat heat exhaustion

If you think you might be getting heat exhaustion, you should immediately hydrate yourself with cold water and move to a cool, shaded area, preferably indoors with air-conditioning.

For quick relief, place an ice pack behind your neck, in your armpits, and in between your legs. Alternatively, immerse yourself in a cool shower, bath or pool. Make sure you remove any tight-fitting or restrictive clothing. If you're exercising, stop immediately.


How to prevent it

Frequent hydration with water is key to preventing heat exhaustion. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, sugary sodas or energy drinks. Sports drinks are only necessary for high-intensity workouts longer than 60 minutes.

To keep your skin cool and protect against sunburn, make sure to wear sunscreen, sunglasses and loose-fitting, light-colored clothing. Consider using a wide-brimmed hat or umbrella to keep the sun off your face.


Other things to keep in mind

Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day, around 3 p.m., but take extra precautions from 11 am to 5 pm, especially with young children. Check in on elderly family members and neighbors to ensure their air conditioners are working and they have adequate hydration in their fridges. Finally, monitor your alcohol consumption whenever you're in the heat.

Author Bio:

A board certified physician in emergency medicine, Dr. Dmitry Volfson completed his residency program in Emergency Medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. He served as chief resident in his final year.


After his residency, Dr. Volfson worked as an emergency medicine attending physician at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport CT and at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York. As assistant residency program director, he also taught residents.


Dr. Volfson received received his bachelor's degree in Biochemistry at the Honors College of College of Staten Island. He received his degree of Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine.