Heat injuries are close cousins to their winter
time counterparts. Where hypothermia is the reduction of normal body temperature by 2-1/2 degrees or more,
heat injuries is when the body temperatures soars above normal, or the
body loses it’s ability to regulate heat due to exertion or exposure
to a hot climate. Just like
hypothermia, the very old, the very young, and those with circulatory
disorders are more likely to get heat related injuries.
Every year heat related injuries kill experienced,
well-conditioned hikers. In
the United States Grand Canyon National Park claims five to ten people
each year on average for heat related death, and hundreds of people are
treated for heat related injuries. Just like it’s cold weather cousin hypothermia, victims of
dehydration, heat exhaustion and heatstroke tend to ignore their
condition until it is too late.
Dehydration is a major
contributing factor to heat related injuries. Proper hydration when outdoors in hot conditions is very critical
in aiding the prevention of heat related injuries. Under normal conditions the body loses about one gallon of fluid
a day through sweating, breathing, and going to the bathroom. Certain medical conditions, like severe diarrhea, can up the
fluid loss too as much as six gallons of fluid in a day. When you engage in strenuous activity the amount of fluid loss
You should drink at least
one quart of fluid for each hour you are out doing physical activity. Having your water bottle in your pack and drinking during breaks
is not the best strategy. Continuous
hydration by either carrying a water bottle or by using a hydration pack
is much better strategy. Don’t
wait until you are thirsty.
When you get into a
dehydrated state you are weak, dizzy, profoundly exhausted and can have
problems thinking clearly. Feeling
nauseous, being drenched in sweat, dark urine with a strong odor, and
having cramps are also warning signs of dehydration. More severe dehydration can be indicated by taking a pinch of
skin from the back of the hand, if the pinched fold stays up (the skin
is no long pliable) you are becoming dangerously dehydrated.
Drinking lots of fluid with
some a small amount of salt helps treat early dehydration. Severe dehydration requires medical attention, typically IV
fluids are given.
Heat exhaustion is the next
step beyond simple dehydration. Because
of a large loss of body fluid, the circulatory system can collapse,
causing a sudden drop in blood pressure, which can lead to
heat exhaustion is the next step past dehydration, it gives a lot of
warning signs before its onset.
Increasing fatigue, severe
cramps, weakness, inability to think properly or strange behavior,
drenching sweats, dilated pupils, and nausea are all warning signs of
heat exhaustion. A person
with more severe heat exhaustion can have cold, pale, clammy skin, be
agitated or disoriented, and can complain of profound thirst.
Heat exhaustion is a serious
medical condition. The
first step is to get the victim in a cooler environment. Out of the sun at the bare minimum. Elevate the feet about twelve inches and have them lie down on a
flat surface. Elevating the feet helps keep blood flowing to the brain. Apply cool clothes, wet compresses to the skin of the victim. Fan them down to help aid convection cooling. Do not use rubbing alcohol. Have them sip non-carbonated sports drinks like Gatorade or
lightly salted water. Cool
water will work fine if nothing else is available. Do not drink caffeine or alcohol as both effect the body’s
ability to regulate heat. Be
careful not to cool the victim down to the point they get hypothermia
(believe it or not, a common mistake in treating heat injuries). Medical attention should be sought out as soon as possible for
victims of heat exhaustion.