Exhaustion by heat wave

Heat exhaustion it constitutes a picture that is characterized by a high body temperature, always lower than 40º C. It originates in very hot environments, in combination with high humidity and intense physical activity.

It can evolve towards the so-called "heat stroke" which is a much more serious, even mortal, picture. The last great heat wave that affected Europe in 2003 caused more than 35,000 deaths with temperatures that exceeded 46 degrees Celsius.

Symptoms of heat wave exhaustion

They can be very nonspecific and the patient may not relate what happens to heat, humidity and exercise. In the physical examination usually presents a temperature below 40 º C and may even be completely normal. This is due to the compensation mechanisms how sweating.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Abundant sweating: pale and cold skin.
  • Accelerated pulse
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Discomfort.
  • Weakness.
  • Dizziness
  • Headache.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Urine dark in color due to dehydration.

Unlike what happens in heat stroke, in this case, patients usually keep their mental state intact, confusion or loss of consciousness is very rare, although they may have orthostatic hypotension (feeling dizzy when they stand up suddenly).

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Why heat exhaustion occurs?

Heat wave exhaustion occurs when the body tries to regulate the temperature through sweating, without success.

We can say that it is the failure of the organism to maintain the normal temperature in environments of high temperature and humidity, in the course of great physical efforts. The body tries to regulate the temperature through sweat, but there comes a moment that is ineffective.

In addition to water, through sweat electrolytes are lost as in sodium and potassium, becoming the cause of muscle cramps and tachycardia.

It is important to keep in mind that the value of the thermometer, on occasion, it does not reflect the real danger of ambient temperatures. A temperature not excessively high, in the presence of high degrees of humidity, can produce a heat wave depletion.

This is what is called the heat index and measures the temperature of the air plus the effects of humidity. Therefore, temperatures considered tolerable, can become dangerous in certain situations.

As in many other cases, The best therapy against heat wave depletion is prevention. The companies are obliged by law to adapt the temperatures of the work centers.

In offices and sedentary work places: between 17 and 27º C. If the temperatures are below or above this range, it is considered thermal stress. However, there is a legal vacuum in relation to work abroad.

The companies are obliged by the Law of Prevention of Labor Risks to avoid thermal stress with different measures, for example, adapting the work schedules in winter and summer to the hours of lower risk and better performance.

Situations that aggravate the prognosis

  • Obesity
  • Cardiac disorders
  • Respiratory insufficiency
  • Certain medications: antibiotics, anticonvulsants, diuretics, laxatives, antihistamines, vasoconstrictors, beta-blockers, antidepressants and antipsychotics, among others, and some drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines

Patients with obesity are more susceptible to heat exhaustion.

Not only do we have to pay attention to the workers. The performance of outdoor sports: cycling, athletics, hiking, etc., at the wrong times and without the right protection can lead to heat wave exhaustion.

Special attention must be paid to children and the elderly which do not have an effective thermoregulatory system and are susceptible to heat wave depletion at a lower temperature and exposure time.

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Preventive measures

  • Light, loose clothing with light colors.
  • Hat, hat, umbrella for Avoid direct contact of the sun with the head.
  • Solar cream of sufficient protection according to the place, time of year and ultraviolet index.
  • Drink enough water, repeating in short periods of time. To check if it is properly hydrated it is useful to observe the color of the urine: if it is clear the hydration can be correct, if it is dark we need to drink more water.
  • Replenish electrolytes that are lost next to water by sweat. Isotonic drinks for athletes or so-called alkaline lemonades can help.
  • Reduce the intake of stimulant drinks that contain caffeine: cola, coffee, etc.
  • Avoid alcohol intake, as it causes cellular dehydration.
  • As far as possible, we must program the activities that require physical effort, both sports and work, at the hours of less heat. It is important, also, to schedule breaks that allow us to stay for a few minutes in a cooler place and then resume the activity.
  • In no way should we leave children inside the car in hot weather. The indoor temperature can rise many degrees in a short time.

How to act in case of exhaustion by heat wave?

A correct hydration is key to counteract the effects of heat wave depletion. In addition, it is also convenient to find a cool place to rest.

In case of exhaustion by heat wave:

  • We must get away from the place and look for a cool place in the shade.
  • We can lie on the floor and raise our legs to facilitate the venous return to the heart and the perfusion of the brain.
  • Get rid of unnecessary clothes, undo buttons on the neck or any other part that oppress us.
  • Cool off with a cold bath or shower. Apply wet towels on the head, neck and chest.
  • Hydrate little by little with water or isotonic drinks.
  • The symptoms of exhaustion can last several days; Do not exercise or expose yourself to heat until you have fully recovered.

If after these recommendations you do not recover, your body temperature remains high, you faint or you have seizures You should call emergency services or see a doctor. We must be cautious with the activities that can cause us exhaustion by heat wave and take the necessary preventive measures.