Heat exhaustion and heat stroke: How to spot the signs

Weather & Traffic Q&As

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Central Texas heat can be extremely dangerous.

Dr. Eric Higginbotham, chief of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Dell Children’s Medical Center, said heat-related illnesses occur earlier than you might expect.

“I see it happening more late spring, early summer where people aren’t used to the heat,” said Dr. Higginbotham.

“They’re a little de-conditioned, and so they’re a little more susceptible to the symptoms or they just don’t recognize the symptoms, so they try to power through as opposed to heeding it as a sign that they need to do something different,” he continued.

Dr. Higginbotham said the two main illnesses he looks for are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include feeling faint or dizzy, excessive sweating with clammy skin, a rapid pulse and muscle cramps.

These warning signs mean you should get someplace cool, take a cold shower and drink plenty of liquids to bring your body temperature down.

Ignoring heat exhaustion can lead to a more severe heat-related illness: heat stroke.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is brought on when your body is no longer able to regulate its temperature.

When this happens, you’ll stop sweating, and your skin will dry up, your pulse will speed up, you could develop a throbbing headache, become confused, vomit or lose consciousness.

Heat stroke can be fatal.

If you or a friend experience these symptoms, it’s time to call 911 and get to a hospital.

“We have this device here called an Arctic sun, which is essentially a very powerful cooling blanket and that can go under them and on top of them. If we get in a situation where that’s not working then we can even be more aggressive where there’s a type of catheter called a Foley catheter that goes up into the bladder, and we can irrigate cold water through that, and we can do the same thing with a tube that goes from the nose down into the stomach,” said Dr. Higginbotham.

Rhabdomyolysis

There’s a third, lesser known, heat-related illness known as rhabdomyolysis.

“People are exerting themselves. They’re getting dehydrated and essentially their muscles start to break down. So we see that a lot with two-a-days with football or people that have prolonged exercise outside getting ready for the school year like soccer or lacrosse,” according to Dr. Higginbotham.

He worries most about children being left in the back of cars. As a rule, Dr. Higginbotham recommends leaving something you need, like keys or a wallet, next to your child so that you remember to check the backseat.

It doesn’t need to be 100 degrees for heat illnesses, 90s or even 80s can cause problems if you ignore the signs.

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