Do you know the difference between heat exhaustion and sun stroke? The effects are equally uncomfortable, and in some cases, potentially life threatening, but the more you know about these two health conditions, the better prepared you can be. So let’s start with the definitions.
Heat exhaustion is the result of spending too much time in the heat. It’s most commonly caused by extremely hot weather conditions, or hot working conditions – think of an electrician working on a roof on a 30+ degrees day, or a chef in a commercial kitchen. You don’t have to be in the sun to suffer heat exhaustion; it can be caused by not replacing lost fluids over a period of days, but spending significant time in the sun without drinking enough water can also be a factor.
Sun stroke on the other hand is caused from direct sunlight and is actually considered a medical emergency. It occurs when your body’s heat-regulating system fails due to exposure to high temperatures; the reason you need to take it seriously is because it can lead to damage to major organs.
In order to prevent sun stroke and heat exhaustion, follow these six basic guidelines:
1. Drink water! This is particularly crucial during the summer months. You should be aiming for 12 cups of water at a minimum per day in order to maintain regular body temperatures!
2. Dress appropriately – You may have planned to wear your favourite dress or pants for the day, but before you lock it in, make sure that it’s appropriate for the weather on any given day. If it’s hot, try and wear loose fitting, lightweight and light-coloured clothing – it will help keep your body cool.
3. Being shady isn’t always a bad thing! Take it easy during the hottest times of the day – usually between 11am and 2pm. When you can, seek out some shade especially during these times. Try and avoid high energy activities like hiking, running and cycling.
4. Don’t forget the SPF! Don't be deceived by cloud cover; UV will still find you even if the weather is overcast, so apply sunscreen to the major areas like your nose, ears and neck. Our friends at the Canadian Dermatology Association recommend SPF 30. And don’t forget to reapply if you’re planning on being outside for more than a couple of hours.
5. Keep a cool head. Alcohol can affect your ability to judge temperature and it also leads to dehydration – two factors which can increase the risk of heat exhaustion and sun stroke. Instead, try and drink non-alcoholic beverages in little sips, and often.
6. Time out. The heat is an energy-sapper, especially among children and the elderly. Allow more rest time on hot days and consider taking that time out in a cool bath or shower.
If you’ve missed any of the tips above and you feel the warmer weather has gotten the better of you or someone you know, look out for these signs:
- No sweat – people often notice that they stop sweating when suffering heat exhaustion or sun stroke
- Confusion and lethargy – your body is trying to pool the little energy it has, so you may start to feel disoriented and tired.
If you start to notice any of these signs, seek help and get in touch with a medical professional. The earlier you can start to treat the symptoms, the sooner your can start recovery and the better you’ll feel.
These tips, and other practical pieces of advice and training, are covered in St. John Ambulance’s Standard First Aid course.=
St John Ambulance is the world's longest-standing humanitarian organization and a registered non-profit, serving Canada for 130 years and setting the highest possible standard for health and safety training, including first-aid and CPR services. The British Columbia and Yukon council has 25 branches throughout the province whose staff and volunteers deliver innovative training programs and products to save lives at work, home and play. St. John Ambulance is dedicated to improving the health, safety and quality of life of Canadians through training and community service including Volunteer First Response Services, Youth Program, School Program, Therapy Dog Services and Emergency Response.
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