Lake Tahoe, CA/NV…It’s that time of year where heat-related illnesses are on the rise for locals and visitors alike. Heat illnesses include dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. It is important to understand the differences, especially when exercising in an area like Lake Tahoe with higher altitudes and higher temperatures.
Dehydration occurs when the body does not have enough fluid to carry out normal functions. Young children, older adults, and people with chronic illnesses are most at risk. Common causes include intense diarrhea, vomiting, or excessive sweating. Not drinking enough water during hot weather or exercise also may cause dehydration.
Mild to moderate dehydration symptoms include:
- Dry, sticky mouth
- Feeling thirsty
- Not urinating
- Dry skin
You may reverse dehydration by drinking more fluids, but severe dehydration requires medical treatment.
Heat exhaustion can occur after a prolonged dehydration period. Triggers that cause the body to overheat include extended time in higher temperatures, and strenuous activity. Symptoms may appear suddenly, or develop over time, particularly after extended periods of exercise.
Possible symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Muscle cramps
- Pale skin
- Rapid heartbeat
Treatment for dehydration and heat exhaustion is straight forward. If you, or anyone else, has mild or moderate symptoms of a heat-related illness, I recommend to:
- Drink plenty of fluids (avoid caffeine and alcohol)
- Take a cool shower/bath/sponge bath
- Remove any tight or unnecessary clothing
Heat stroke is the most serious heat injury. If the body’s core reaches 104°F, this is a medical emergency! If you suspect someone has heat stroke, also called sunstroke, call 911 immediately. Help cool the patient until paramedics arrive. The National Athletic Trainer’s Association (NATA) released new guidelines in June suggesting that heat stroke victims need immediate cooling before going to a hospital.
Symptoms of heat stroke:
- Fainting (may be first sign)
- Altered mental state: person agitated, aggressive, or confused
- Red, hot, and dry skin
- Rapid heartbeat
- Muscle weakness, cramps
- Throbbing headache
The safest approach is prevention and education. In hot weather, drink fluids regularly to help prevent dehydration and heat-related illness. Avoid waiting until you feel thirsty, you may be dehydrated. Monitor fluid loss during hot weather, illness, or exercise, and consume liquids to replace water loss. Sports beverages can replace salts and minerals after you sweat. Wear sun protection, including a brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Take breaks in the shade and wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.
Tamara Burns, RN is a nurse at Barton Family Medicine. For additional tips on outdoor preparedness, catch Barton Health’s wellness lecture “Wilderness Medicine Explored” on Wednesday, July 12 at Lake Tahoe Community College. For a lecture schedule and details, go to bartonhealth.org/lecture or call 530.543.5537.