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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Eki Wari and Physician Brandon Yew on June 19, 2022

Tips To Help You Spot Heat Exhaustion

As the hot summer heat presses on, it's important to know the signs of heat exhaustion and treat them before the condition becomes life-threatening. Here's what to do if you think you have heat exhaustion.

Heat stroke min scaled

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body has become overheated. It’s common after spending a lot of time outdoors during warm weather.

Although not as severe as heat stroke, heat exhaustion can be dangerous, especially if you have an underlying medical condition.

This article discusses how to identify heat exhaustion. Plus, our experts provide tips for using natural remedies to help you recover so it doesn’t turn into heat stroke.

What Is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a condition that occurs when you become overheated and cannot cool down quickly enough. It may occur if you are exercising or spending a lot of time in hot, humid weather.

Loss of fluids due to excessive sweating may cause your symptoms to worsen. Therefore, it’s important to stay hydrated and replace lose electrolytes if you plan to be outside when it’s very hot.

The condition is not usually life-threatening as long as you can cool down within 30 minutes. However, if it turns into heat stroke, you will need to seek emergency medical treatment.

Heat exhaustion symptoms

Symptoms of heat exhaustion may develop slowly or come on all at once. In many cases, a red heat rash or heat cramps are the first signs. Muscle cramps may occur anywhere in the body, but they usually start in the arms or legs.

Here are some other symptoms to watch out for:

  • Headache, blurred vision, dizziness, or feeling light-headed
  • Fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue, fainting, or weakness in the body
  • Shallow, rapid breathing
  • Swollen ankles or swelling in the hands and feet (also known as heat edema)
  • Excessive and severe sweating
  • Cold, clammy, or damp skin
  • Fast, weak heartbeat or low blood pressure symptoms when you stand up
  • Children may become floppy or sleepy

Causes and risk factors

People who work outdoors in the heat while wearing heavy clothing are at an increased risk.

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body temperature becomes too high and you are unable to cool down.

Normally, sweat cools the skin and keeps your entire body cool. However, if you become dehydrated and lose excessive amounts of fluid and electrolytes through sweat, your body cannot do this. This may lead to heat exhaustion symptoms.

Most people experience problems when they exercise outdoors in hot temperatures. Here are some other risk factors that might make you prone to the condition:

  • Age: Young children (under 4) and older adults (over 65) may not be able to regulate their body temperature properly. They may also be prone to more severe complications due to dehydration.
  • Alcohol consumption: This can lead to dehydration.
  • Physical activity: People who exercise or work in the heat may develop symptoms, especially if they wear heavy clothing or deal with hot equipment. Additionally, people who are not used to working or exercising in the heat may be at an increased risk of developing symptoms.
  • Medications: Certain medications can lead to heat exhaustion due to an increased risk of diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. These may include diuretics to treat heart failure, chemotherapy drugs, and beta-blockers to lower blood pressure.
  • Weight: Obese people and those with heart conditions may be at an increased risk of developing severe complications.

What To Do If You Think You Have Heat Exhaustion

If you think someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, get them to a shaded area, have them rehydrate, and put a cold washcloth on their forehead.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms, do these three things right away:

  1. Cool off immediately: Stop what you’re doing and get to a shaded area, take a cold shower, or sit in an air-conditioned room. It’s also helpful to put a cold washcloth on your forehead or the back of your neck.
  2. Hydrate: Take small sips of water or an electrolyte drink to replenish fluids. Sit and rest for the next hour. Keep drinking fluids, but try not to drink too quickly. Do not consume alcohol or caffeinated drinks.
  3. Get help: Seek emergency medical help if your symptoms do not get better after an hour of resting and drinking fluids. Call 911 if the person has a seizure, loses consciousness, has shortness of breath, or has a high fever.

How To Recover From Being Overheated

It may take some time before you start to feel normal again after recovering from heat exhaustion. Using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a good way to reduce symptoms and get you back to feeling normal. However, it should not be your first go-to treatment method.

According to registered TCM Physician Brandon Yew, “During acute onset of heat exhaustion, which is a life-threatening emergency, seek mainstream medical intervention immediately. It is only during post heat stroke recovery that is appropriate for TCM to come into play.”

“TCM can help with post heat stroke recovery through herbal medication, acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, tuina (Chinese manual therapy), and blood-letting, all of which are formulated carefully by the TCM physician to address specifically the unique body constitution of every individual patient. Hence, it’s best to always first consult the TCM physician for proper assessment,” Physician Yew continued.

Herbal formulas

Below listed are some TCM herbal formulations to help with post heat exhaustion recovery:

  • Sheng Mai Yin: Regenerates Qi and Yin energies of the Heart and Lungs; regulates sweating.
  • Xiang Ru San: Dispels residual Dampness
  • Liu Yi San: Clears Heat and dispels Dampness
  • Gui Ling Gan Lu Yin: Clears Heat and dispels Dampness
  • Qing Shu Yi Qi Tang: Regenerates Qi and Yin energies; dispels Heat and Dampness

You can sip a cooling herbal tea, such as American ginseng tea, to stay hydrated and reduce Heat in the body. American ginseng tea also has soothing properties that can help with nausea.

Physician Yew cautions, “Please always bear in mind that the herbal formulas provided above are meant for varying body constitutions corresponding to different pathological states of post heat stroke syndrome. As such, it is strongly advised to not purchase any of them to self-medicate without first consulting a licensed TCM professional.”

Accupressure

Acupressure is an easy self-help remedy you can do by placing fingers or blunt object like a massage stick at certain acupoints. Apply an appropriate amount of pressure to elicit a tolerable sensation of soreness or tenderness. At the same time, massage in both clockwise and anticlockwise circular motion 20 times each. Repeat for at least 3 minutes per acupoint.

Here are some acupoints that might help:

  • Bai Hui DU20: Dispels Heat and Dampness; restores and enhances localized Qi and Blood circulation
  • Tai Yang EX-HN5: Alleviates Heat and Dampness; restores and enhances localized Qi and Blood circulation
  • Feng Chi GB20: Directly dispels Heat and Dampness; restores and enhances localized Qi and Blood circulation
  • He Gu LI4: Reduces Heat and Dampness; restores and enhances Qi circulation
  • Nei Guan PC6: Restores and enhances Qi and Blood circulation
  • Dan Zhong RN17: Dispels Heat and regenerates Qi
  • Zhong Wan RN12: Alleviates Dampness and regenerates Qi
  • Yin Ling Quan SP9: Dispels Dampness
  • Zu San Li ST36: Reduces Dampness and regenerates Qi
  • San Yin Jiao SP6: Dispels Dampness and regenerates Yin energy
  • Tai Xi KI3: Dispels Heat and regenerates Yin energy

“Do take note that acupressure can only provide mild symptomatic relief. Essentially, it acts merely as a supplement to acupuncture, which produces a much stronger therapeutic efficacy against post heat stroke syndrome. Hence it is still strongly recommended to seek a more comprehensive help from a qualified TCM practitioner, especially for those whose condition have persisted and are of greater severity. Preferably in conjunction with the medical doctor,” stated Physician Yew.

References

  1. NHS. 2022. Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke. 
  2. Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Heat Exhaustion.

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