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How to identify the warning signs of heat exhaustion

As temperatures in the PNW skyrocket, it’s important to educate yourself and your family on ways to prevent heat-related injuries.  

While temperatures here can seem quite mild, the heat, coupled with high humidity and limited availability of cooling systems, can still cause heat-related illnesses, especially in those less acclimated to the heat. Many Seattle homes and businesses lack central air, increasing the risk of heat-related injuries.

Looking out for the most vulnerable:  

Outdoor workers, older adults, young children and the unhoused population are among the most vulnerable residents during periods of excessive heat. If you are spending time outdoors, it’s important to take extra precautions to reduce the risk of injuries indirectly caused by excessive heat. 

Note: There are some medications and pre-existing conditions that can make you more sensitive to the heat. Always talk to your doctor if you are concerned about an increased risk, and visit the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center for more resources on preventing heat-related injuries or illness. 

Preventative measures: 

Always check the weather before spending time outdoors. This way you’ll be better prepared and know what to wear and what to bring. 

Speaking of: wear appropriate clothing and always wear sunscreen. Try light-colored, loose-fitting clothes made with absorbent materials. 

Drink plenty of water and remember to pace yourself. Take rest breaks indoors to cool down and remind children to take extra water breaks as well. 

Stay inside and use fans to keep cool. Keep in mind: taking a cool shower or bath or using air conditioning are even better ways to lower body temperature. If your home doesn’t have air conditioning, you can visit a public library or look for extreme heat shelters sponsored by King County Regional Homelessness Authority.  

Spotting the warning signs: 

Excessive heat can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke; it’s important to understand the signs for each and know how to help. 

Dehydration is caused by a lack of fluids in the body and can be prevented by drinking lots of water and refueling the body with added electrolytes found in sports drinks such as Gatorade, Propel, etc. Warning signs include: headaches, muscle cramps, dizziness and can even lead to loss of consciousness.  

Heat exhaustion can happen when the body can’t cool itself quickly enough. The symptoms can be very similar to dehydration, but often more severe, and can include nausea and vomiting. Move indoors, drink a cool beverage and try to lower the body temperature as quickly as possible to prevent heat exhaustion and stop it from turning into something more severe such as heat stroke

Signs of heat stroke include extreme body temperature, red skin, rapid pulse, nausea, confusion and loss of consciousness. Heat stroke can lead to death or disability if not handled immediately. If someone is exhibiting these signs, they need medical attention as soon as possible. 

If you spot any of these warning signs in someone, don’t hesitate, take them indoors, help lower their body temperature, encourage them to drink water, and call 911 for additional help. 

Enjoy the weather but be smart: stay hydrated, take breaks and don’t overdo it. 

PS: Did you know that it only takes 10 minutes for the temperature inside a vehicle to rise more than 20 degrees? This is your reminder to never ever leave children or pets unattended in a hot car; carelessness like this can result in serious injury or even death

Additional heat safety resources: