Recognize the signs, symptoms and severity of common types of heat illness
By Elizabeth Quinn, About.com Guide
Updated August 15, 2011
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Athletes are particularly susceptible to developing heat-related illness while exercising in hot weather. Heat illness in athletes can be mild, or may turn into a life-threatening emergency.
Many types of heat illness can be avoided by following some basic guidelines and by knowing the warning signs and symptoms of a problem. Each condition along the continuum of heat illness has it's own unique warning signs and symptoms--here's how to tell them apart.
Mild Heat IllnessConditions that are considered mild heat illness include the following:1. Heat Edema
Heat edema is a mild heat illness characterized by the swelling of hands and feet after prolonged exercise in heat. The core body temperature is usually normal.
2. Heat Rash
Heat rash (sometimes called prickly heat) is a skin irritation that occurs when the sweat ducts become clogged and prevent the release of sweat onto the skin. Once trapped, the sweat causes a mild inflammation and an itchy rash that is generally seen in sweaty areas underneath clothing. Core body is usually not affected by heat rash.
3. Heat Syncope
The signs and symptoms of heat syncope include dizziness and/or fainting; an athlete may also experience weakness. Heat syncope is a posture-related event, and athletes recover immediately after lying down with his or her feet elevated. Heat syncope is seen in athletes who are insufficiently acclimated to heat, and who become dehydrated. Unlike other serious heat illness, athletes with heat syncope have a normal core body temperature and recover quickly once they are fully hydrated.
4. Heat Cramps
The signs and symptoms of heat cramps include painful muscle contractions that are associated with dehydration and electrolyte loss after exercising in the heat. An athlete's core body temperature will likely be elevated, but will not be over 104°F (40°C).
Moderate Heat Illness5. Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion is considered a moderate heat illness that requires immediate attention. The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include an elevated core body temperature in the range of 98.6°F - 104°F (37°C – 40°C). An athlete will complain of dizziness, fatigue, headache and occasionally will experience nausea or vomiting. The skin is usually flushed and sweaty but it may be cold or clammy.
Severe Heat Illness6. Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is considered the most severe heat illness. An athlete with heat stroke has a core body temperature over 104°F (40°C) and appears confused and disoriented. As heat stroke progresses loss of consciousness may occur. With heat stroke, many patients will stop sweating. Athletes, however, generally suffer from exertional heat stroke, in which they continue to sweat. This is a medical emergency.
The Heat Stroke Symptom Checker helps you learn more about heat stroke symptoms and treatment steps.
The Hughston Foundation. Severity Levels of Heat Illness. 2010. [http://www.hughston.com] Last Accessed August, 2011.