In this season of summer Texans call “[Heck’s] Front Porch” it is important to recognize the dangers—and differences—of Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion. Dr. Johnathan Conner is the Emergency Medical Director at St. David’s Georgetown Hospital and he says we all need to pay attention to our bodies.
“To avoid the sickness and risks that accompany either condition, which usually combine with dehydration, pay attention to your heart rate and your general sense of wellness. If you feel dizzy, week or have a headache, get out of the heat immediately and save yourself an expensive trip to the ER.”
Heat Exhaustion is when you are no longer regulating your temperature and your core is too hot. You may feel nauseated and very thirsty. He says a cool shower is helpful but if the water is too cold, it will constrict surface blood vessels and trap heat in your core.
Heat Stroke will present as dry skin that is hot to the touch and the victim may pass out or have a seizure. That is time to call 9-1-1.
“It important to drink plenty of water and take note of your sweat. Water is best but your body also loses electrolytes so if you do nothing but drink water, you will lose critical electrolytes that are easily replaced with food or sports drinks.”
Dr. Connor recommends adding recovery drinks like LifeAid or Pedialyte to your cooler and take a few drinks of those between bottles of water. You can also purchase replacement powders or tablets at sports stores and add them to your water bottles.
For grownups who enjoy an alcoholic beverage, he recommends one bottle of water for every alcoholic drink.
There are different concerns for different demographics but most ER patients are people who spend a lot of time outdoors without realizing they are dehydrated. “There is a misconception that swimming or water sports are safer but your body is still sweating, and water tends to make people want to use the bathroom. Just be sure you don’t get behind on your intake.”
He adds there is greater risk for the elderly, very young, and people with chronic conditions that require medication; diabetes, diuretics, and high blood pressure among them. It is also important to note that once a person gets out of the heat, symptoms of heat exhaustion can continue for hours or days. “If you feel light-headed or nauseated, it is best to stay out of the heat for extended periods until you no longer have those symptoms.
“Listen to your thirst and pay attention. Make sure you are urinating periodically; if the color is dark, you are getting behind.”
From the doctor’s point of view, keep it simple: “Listen to your body, don’t dig in and push that last mile, particularly if you are alone. Having one heat injury affects your body’s overall ability to regulate heat and puts you at greater risk for trouble in the future.”