Heat Stroke vs Exhaustion: What to look out for when enjoying your summer days

Summer is in full swing and temperatures are rising fast. People are predicting 120 degrees here in Phoenix this summer. Doesn’t matter if it’s from an official weather report or from your Uncle Bob looking up at the sky while rubbing a potato, it’s still not a nice thought. As we approach these hot days of summer, learning how to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke is vital!

A few years ago while hiking in the Superstition Mountains I suffered from heat exhaustion with a mile left to go. That was one of the worst feelings I have ever felt. No energy, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath. I found some shade along the trail and rested for about 45 minutes and was able to make it to the end. Lack of water and only a couple of hours of sleep led to this and nowadays I am more susceptible to heat exhaustion. Considering I live in Arizona… that’s not good. I still get out and explore this heat drenched state, but I have to be careful. Even last weekend while out paddle boarding along the Salt River I could feel the heat exhaustion creeping up at the very end of the trip. It’s just something you need to be wary of when living in the Southwest.

Here is some important information you need to know about Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.

Heat Exhaustion

Even on days where you don’t think it is that hot (it was only 85-90 degrees when I felt its debilitating grip), you can still suffer from Heat Exhaustion. While not as serious as Heat Stroke, you need to pay attention to your body and what it is doing. Here are a few symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Excessive sweating/cold or clammy skin
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headache
  • Weakness or fatigue

You can avoid succumbing to heat exhaustion by drinking lots of water, and avoid the sun as much as possible when you are outdoors. Wear a hat that covers the back of your head and neck. If you’re out at the lake or river, dunk the hat in the cool water. Better yet, get one of those cooling towel that is becoming popular now, or this Ergodyne Cooling Ranger Hat which will keep your face and neck in the shade and give you the benefits of a cooling towel. Lay down and rest for 10-15 minutes, this will help lower your heart rate and allow your body to start cooling off. If you can, take a cold shower and then lay down. Your symptoms will only continue to get worse and potentially lead to Heat Stroke.

However, you decide to beat the heat while you are out on your adventure, be a decent human being and bring extra water with you. There will always be someone who forgot/lost their water or simply ran out. It is the kindness of strangers that make this world a beautiful place and your forethought could save a life.

Heat Stroke

This is where you don’t want to be, as this can kill you. In 2015, 45 people in the US died from Heat Stroke(National Weather Service). In Phoenix last year, 4 people died in a single weekend (Fox News) when temperatures soared above 118 degrees.

Here are some of the signs of Heat Stroke.

  • Body temp of 104
  • Throbbing headache
  • Lack of sweating
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizure

If you find someone suffering from Heat Stroke, get them into an air-conditioned place or at least a shaded area and call 911. If they are conscious, give them water or help cool them off with pouring cold water on them. Force them to lay there and wait for the paramedics. You don’t want them getting up and back into the heat to make things worse. A lot of people will try to tough it out and make it back home, including myself, and only end up hurting themselves even more.

Knowing the symptoms and what to do to help will come in handy over the summer. When you’re planning your adventure, be smart and check weather reports to see how hot it’s going to be. Read up on the area to see if there is plenty of shaded or covered areas that you can get out of the sun. Tell a friend or family member where you are going (be sure to tell them when your back as well), especially if you’re going to a more remote area where there is no cell coverage.

Doing a little prep work and familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of heat-related illnesses will only help to keep you healthy and safe as well as help save another life. So get out there and have some fun!!