While the weather system of the Pacific Northwest is closely associated with lots of rain, the region is not always under a constant drizzle.
That’s because the upper left corner has summer like anyplace else in the country. And that means more than just hiking, biking, boating and frolicking.
It means hot temperatures — conditions that are most closely associated with the southeastern United States. During July 2018, for example, Seattle had four consecutive days of temperatures reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above (as opposed to the normal high of around 77 degrees) and Portland, Oregon, was subjected to more than seven such consecutive days. For a metropolitan region more accustomed to mild temperatures and with most homes lacking air conditioning, those kinds of extended periods of heat raise the specter of dangerous heat exhaustion for many people.
Heat exhaustion is more than feeling just tuckered out. It is a condition that can lead to disorientation, dizziness, nausea and, left untreated, heat stroke.
But how does someone recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion and what can they do to thwart the condition? And what's the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?
Getting too hot can impede your body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather, especially during periods of high humidity when sweat won’t evaporate as quickly as it should, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Heat exhaustion can present itself in the form of water depletion. Signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness. Profuse sweating, muscle cramps, headache and pale skin also are indicators.
It also can be seen with salt depletion, characterized by nausea, vomiting and dizziness.
Either condition is especially fraught for children younger than 2 and adults 65 and over, as well as people with chronic diseases and mental illness.
Factors affecting the body’s ability to regulate temperature include obesity, dehydration, heart disease, poor circulation, sunburn and prescription drug and alcohol use. Caffeine can also interfere with heating/cooling regulation.
Besides scheduling outdoor activities at a cooler time of day, consuming water or fruit juice can help. Sports drinks with electrolytes can be effective at thwarting heat-related illness, according to a Boston University panel on the risks to agricultural workers who work in heat.
The simplest and most effective treatment for heat exhaustion is getting out of the heat and into a cool, shaded place — ideally an air conditioned, darkened room. Taking a cooling shower or bath is effective, as well as applying iced towels or ice packs to the neck, groin and armpits accompanied by fans.
In extreme cases, heat stroke can occur. A condition that can lead to brain damage or death, heat stroke is characterized by a core body temperature of more than 102.5 degrees.
Athletes or people working outside are at risk. Heat illness during practice or competition is the leading cause of death among U.S. high school athletes, according to the CDC.
In 2015, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association published revised guidelines for treatment of heat illness, recommending cold water immersion before transporting a patient to the hospital.
The “cool first, transport second” advice is applicable to athletes and anyone exposed to extreme heat, the association said.
A long-ago television police drama was known for one its oft-repeated catch phrases, “Be careful out there.” The same basic, common-sense advice could be applied to the preventable condition of heat exhaustion. Knowing how to spot the symptoms, however, is essential.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.