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Heat Related Injuries - Dehydration - Heat Exhuastion - Sunstroke - OutdoorPlaces.Com

Heat Related Injuries Guide

 

Heat Stroke

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 greatly increases.

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 unconsciousness.  Because 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.