Not everyone is lucky enough to live in weather that is pleasant all year around - many of us live where it gets darned cold in the winter so we bask in the heat of the summer. If you live in an area as I do, in Montreal, it can get *very* hot in the summer; we can be the city of extreme weather come winter or summer.
Heat Exhaustion vs Heat Stroke
It's easy to confuse the two, but there is a big difference between them. Heat stroke is the more serious of the two but heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke with shocking speed. Someone who is experiencing heat exhaustion may experience:
- Heavy sweating
- Cramping muscles
- Being pale
- Fatigue, weakness
- Light headedness or dizziness, perhaps leading to fainting
They also may feel nauseated, begin to vomit.
This is a serious situation and the best thing to do for someone who is experiencing heat exhaustion is to get him or her out of the heat and into a cool place. If this isn't possible, a shaded area and/or somewhere with a breeze will help a bit, at least. At this point, as long as the person is coherent enough to swallow without choking, he or she needs water or a rehydration drink - not anything with alcohol or caffeine.
Cool sprinkles of water or a shower will also help make the person cooler. This does not mean a dunk in a cold swimming pool or in a cold shower. Cool is the word - not cold!
Heat stroke is the more serious of the two conditions. At this point, the body has overheated and can no longer cool itself off. That means, no more sweating. The body has decided that it takes too much effort to sweat and it can't afford to make that effort any more.
Signs of heat stroke include:
- No more sweating
- A higher than normal body temperature
- Red, dry skin
- Fast pulse
- Difficulty breathing
- Disorientation, agitation
If you are with someone who has developed heat stroke, treat him or her as you would for heat exhaustion, but also call 911 for emergency help as this is a true medical emergency.
So, how do we prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke? By being smart!
The most important thing to remember is to stay hydrated. That means drinking water or other non-caffeine or non-alcohol fluid even if you don't feel thirsty. Constantly drink the fluid to maintain your body's hydration levels.
Other tips include:
- Avoid strenuous activity, particularly outside. If you must work outside, try to avoid the hottest times of the day, usually between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
- Wear light-weight clothing, a hat and sunglasses. Bring back the age of the parasol and use an umbrella to shield yourself from the sun.
- While inside, if you don't have air conditioning, keep your blinds or curtains closed, particularly windows facing the sun.
- Stay in the lower levels of your home if possible, as they are usually the coolest.
- If you don't have air conditioning and your home is too hot, seek out shelter at a local mall. Call your city or official offices to find out if there are specific areas that are specifically designated as havens during heat waves.
- Friends and neighbors - check in on people who are living alone, particularly the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. They are at increased risk of having difficulty managing the heat.
Stay safe this summer. While it may not always be so easy to avoid getting too hot, if you know what to do and what signs to watch for, you could avoid a tragedy.