Heat prostration, also referred to as heat exhaustion, is a condition that develops when the body becomes overheated and dehydrated. When the body becomes too hot, sweat is produced as a natural reaction. When people become too hot and sweat out more liquid than they are taking in, dehydration and heat prostration can occur.
People who have jobs that keep them outdoors for extended periods during hot weather are at higher risk for heat-related illnesses. Athletes too are a high-risk group, due to the many workout and practice sessions that are sometimes conducted outdoors in extreme heat. These groups are also at risk for heat stroke, which is a more severe type of heat exhaustion.
Symptoms of heat prostration can vary, but they often include profuse sweating, dizziness, and muscle cramps. Sometimes people who are suffering heat prostration may have skin that is cold to the touch, in spite of the heat. In addition, people suffering from heat exhaustion may become confused and disoriented. In some cases, heat prostration can cause loss of consciousness.
When not dealt with properly, and quickly, heat prostration can escalate into heat stroke. Heat stroke is considered a serious emergency and may have life-threatening consequences. When heat stroke occurs, the body is completely incapable of cooling off. If medical attention is not received, heat stroke can result in coma or even death. Some signals that overheating may be escalating into heat stroke can include a total lack of sweating, rapid pulse rate, and dizziness.
Treatment for heat prostration is generally straightforward and involves cooling off and hydrating the body as quickly as possible. This can sometimes be accomplished by pouring cool water over the body. Ideally, someone who believes he or she may be suffering heat exhaustion should take a cold shower or get into a room that is air-conditioned. If this is not immediately possible, it is a good idea to take off as much clothing as possible and, above all, sit down or lie down to rest.
There are a few things that can be done to avoid heat-related illnesses. Drink plenty of liquids, preferably drinks specifically designed to replace electrolytes lost from sweating. These drinks are available at most groceries and are labeled as being enriched with sodium, potassium, or magnesium. The drinks typically come in various fruit flavors, both sweetened and unsweetened. In addition, people who know in advance that they may be at risk for heat prostration should wear loose, light clothing, and avoid drinking alcohol.