Is it heat exhaustion or are you just tired?

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Whether you’re on vacation or enjoying the sun at home, feeling the need for a siesta after lunch or a disco nap before dinner on a hot summer’s day is completely normal. However, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between regular warm weather-induced drowsiness and something more serious. In order to better understand this distinction, we asked doctors to clarify the symptoms and signs of heat-related conditions.

Heat exhaustion occurs as a result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures, causing the body to lose an excessive amount of water and salt. Dr. Preethi Daniel, deputy medical director at London Doctors Clinic, explains that symptoms of heat exhaustion may include heavy sweating, rapid breathing, headaches, high temperature, nausea, a faster and weak pulse, light-headedness, fatigue, and heat cramps. It is worth noting that older individuals, babies, children, and those with chronic illnesses are more susceptible to developing heat exhaustion. While not life-threatening, it serves as a warning sign to promptly cool down and prevent progression to heat stroke. This can be accomplished by removing unnecessary clothing, lying down with feet elevated above the heart, drinking plenty of water, and using a cool sponge to cool the skin. If symptoms persist after 30 minutes, seek medical help.

Differentiating heat exhaustion from regular tiredness is crucial. Dr. Carolyn Barshall, a GP at King Edward VII’s independent charitable hospital, explains that heat exhaustion is a direct result of spending too much time in the sun, leading to a core body temperature of over 38 degrees. On the other hand, tiredness can be attributed to various lifestyle factors, such as disrupted sleep patterns, alcohol consumption, and a poor diet. If the symptoms mentioned earlier are present in addition to a lack of energy and body aches, heat exhaustion may be the cause.

Heatstroke, unlike heat exhaustion, is a severe condition that occurs as a result of overheating. Dr. Daniel explains that it causes confusion, drowsiness, and can even lead to seizures due to the rise in internal body temperature. Heatstroke symptoms, Barshall adds, include confusion, delirium, combativeness, seizures, loss of consciousness, and a core body temperature above 40 degrees. Notably, heatstroke requires immediate medical attention and should be treated as an emergency, whereas heat exhaustion necessitates cooling down.

In order to prevent heat exhaustion, it is important to take certain precautions when spending time in the sun. Dr. Daniel advises avoiding direct sunlight between 11am and 3pm, wearing loose and light-colored clothing, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of cold beverages and water throughout the day, and limiting alcohol intake. Additionally, when it comes to young children, covering their prams or buggies with a damp cloth and refreshing it every 30 minutes can help keep them cool.

In conclusion, while feeling tired in warm weather is normal, it is crucial to be able to recognize when it may be indicative of a more serious condition, such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke. By understanding the symptoms and taking necessary precautions, individuals can stay safe and enjoy the summer season to the fullest extent.

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