Health and fitness

Heat Stress vs. Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke

As temperatures continue to rise, the Philippines brace itself for what meteorologists predict will be an extended period of extreme heat. The heatwave coincides with a similar trend in Asia, where many people have fallen ill due to the scorching temperatures, resulting in hospitalizations. Heat stroke fatalities have also been reported.

Heat-related illnesses occur when your body absorbs too much heat and is unable to regulate its temperature. The mild form, heat stress can range from mild to severe and can appear suddenly or gradually. If left untreated, heat stress can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke, two dangerous conditions that require immediate medical attention.

It's crucial to be informed about heat-related illnesses. Each one comes with its own signs, symptoms, and preventive measures to keep you and your loved ones safe.

1. Mild: Heat Stress

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Signs may include:

  • Painful muscle cramps
  • Heat rashes or prickly heat 
  • Feeling tired
  • Sweaty
  • Thirsty
  • Dizzy

If you start noticing these symptoms, it's essential to take a break, hydrate by drinking water or sports drink, and find a cool spot to relax in the shade.

2. Moderate: Heat Exhaustion

Moving up the scale, heat exhaustion is more serious. When a person goes into heat exhaustion, their core body temperature may rise up to 38.3°C. It should be treated right away.

Symptoms may include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, moist, pale or flushed skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling faint or near collapse
  • Weak pulse

If you or someone you know is experiencing these signs, get medical attention immediately and take these steps to prevent the situation from escalating to heatstroke.

  • Move to a cooler shaded area or airconditioned place.
  • Lie down with legs slightly raised
  • Remove heavy or excess clothing
  • Sip fluids, water, a sports drink with electrolytes or non-alcoholic beverage without caffeine
  • Cool by spraying or sponging with cool water and fanning.
  • Monitor the carefully and go to the emergency room if symptoms don't resolve rapidly.

3. Severe: Heat Stroke

As the most severe heat-related illness, heat stroke is a serious life-threatening medical emergency. A person’s core body temperature can rise to 40.5°C or more.

Get medical help immediately because if not treated right away, heat stroke can lead to permanent brain damage and even death.

Symptoms may include:

  • High body temperature
  • Headache
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Collapse during activity
  • Lack of sweating
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Rapid, weak or irregular pulse
  • Confused state or deliriousness
  • Unconscious

If you suspect someone has heat stroke, call for help, seek medical attention immediately.

Familiarize yourself with these first aid tips. You never know when you might need them. Here's what you can do to help:

  1. First, move the person to a shaded or cool area, away from direct heat.

  2. If possible, lay them down and elevate their feet slightly.

  3. Try to cool them down by removing excessive clothing and applying cool water or ice packs to their body.

  4. Encourage them to drink small sips of cool water if they are conscious and able to swallow.

  5. Seek medical help promptly, as heat stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

Protection is better than cure

Protecting yourself from heat-related illnesses is not complicated, but it does require proactive measures. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Don't forget to keep yourself hydrated by drinking lots of water or drinks with electrolytes.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing to stay comfortable in the heat.
  • Find shade or cool air indoors during the hottest times of the day to help you stay cool.
  • Remember to take breaks often and avoid doing strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day.
  • And please, never leave children or pets in a hot car, even for a moment. It's so important to keep them safe and comfortable.

Heat waves can take a toll on our hearts

According to experts, the high temperatures could raise your chances of having a stroke, a heart attack, or other heart problems. In fact, studies show that during extreme heat, the number of deaths from heart and blood vessel conditions—known as cardiovascular disease—could go up two or three times.
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