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Heat Exhaustion Symptoms and Potential Health Risks

Dr Kenneth Chan, a consultant respiratory physician, answers questions about the signs of heat exhaustion and its health risks.


heat exhaustion

 

1. What is heat exhaustion and what causes it?


Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness due to the body overheating. It is usually caused by over-exposure to exceptionally hot conditions, especially in the presence of high humidity and intense physical activity.

 

An individual suffering heat exhaustion may complain of nausea, dizziness and muscle cramps. He may appear to be profusely sweating and be mildly disorientated. His heartbeat may be very fast and he may have a weak pulse.

 

2. How common is heat exhaustion in Singapore?


Heat exhaustion, is thankfully, quite uncommon in Singapore. This is due to a relatively constant temperature and humidity year round. Hence, most Singaporean residents know how to take appropriate precautions. Individuals who are most at risk are those needing to perform heavy physical activity outdoors. These include construction workers, military personnel, and sportsmen and women.

 

3. Are the young or seniors more prone to heat injury? What dangers should they be aware of?


Yes, children below aged 4 and adults above age 65 are more prone. This is because their bodies do not handle heat as well as other healthy adults. In addition, they may not be independent enough to move to a cooler place or drink fluids to keep themselves hydrated.

 

4. Is it true that people who have experienced heat injuries are much more prone to heat injuries later on in life?


No, that is not true.  

 

5. What are the potential consequences or dangers of heat exhaustion?


If left unchecked, heat exhaustion could lead to heat stroke. This is a life-threatening heat-related illness due to the body overheating. Seizures, brain injury, multiple organ failure and even death could ensue.

 

6. How do I know if I or someone else is experiencing heat exhaustion?


An individual suffering heat exhaustion may complain of nausea, dizziness and muscle cramps. He may appear to be profusely sweating and be mildly disorientated. His heartbeat may be very fast and he may have a weak pulse.

 

7. What should I do if I suspect I or someone around me is suffering from heat exhaustion?


Immediate treatment involves moving to a cool and shady place. Better yet, move the person into an indoor location which is air-conditioned. Drink plenty of fluids and remove any tight fitting or unnecessary clothing. Additional cooling measures which are helpful include fans, ice towels, cold shower or bath.

 

8. What is your advice for the general public regarding heat injuries?


Prevention is best. On a hot day, wear a hat and sunscreen (SPF30). Keep well-hydrated.

 

For sportsmen and women, it is recommended that they consume 250mL of fluid every 20 minutes, regardless if they feel thirsty. Before the physical activity, drink at least half a litre of fluids an hour before. If they feel unwell or have symptoms suggestive of heat exhaustion (see above), they should discontinue that activity and start appropriate treatment (as outlined above).

 


Dr Kenneth Chan

Article with contribution from Dr Kenneth Chan, Respiratory Physician at Gleneagles Hospital.

 

Dr Kenneth Chan is a respiratory medicine specialist practising at Gleneagles Hospital, Singapore, with special interests in bronchoscopy, smoking cessation and intensive care medicine.


For more information, call the Gleneagles Patient Assistance Centre 24-hour hotline at +65 6575 7575 or contact us online to get a specialist appointment. 

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