Exposure to excessive heat can cause loss of body fluids and a rise in body temperature. This may occur at any age but is most common in babies and elderly people. It can occur due to prolonged exposure to high atmospheric temperature or a brief exposure to very high atmospheric temperature (direct exposure to sun is not necessary) or due to heavy manual work in high temperature, high humidity. Pre-existing chronic diseases and alcoholism are some of the predisposing factors.
In a hot environment, the body loses heat by diverting blood to the skin and by sweating. Profuse sweating may lead to an excessive loss of fluids and salts, resulting in heat exhaustion. This condition is rarely serious but if exposure to heat continues, the body’s normal cooling mechanism breaks down and the temperature of the body rises further, resulting in a heat stroke. Heat stroke can prove to be a life-threatening emergency.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke most commonly occur above 104 degree F (40 degree C). High humidity increases the risk of heat stroke because sweating is ineffective and heat loss is decreased.
Heat cramps, also known as stoker’s cramps and fireman’s cramps, are painful involuntary contractions of large voluntary muscles of the arms, legs and trunk. They appear in men who work in hot, humid places, lose much water by copious sweating (normal response of body to environment) and drink water to replace that lost in perspiration. These patients are NOT dehydrated but have electrolyte deficiency.
Oral fluids and electrolyte replacement will be sufficient.
This is an abnormal condition marked by weakness, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps, and fainting. It is caused by low levels of body fluid and salts resulting from exposure to intense heat or the inability to adjust to heat. Body temperature is near normal; blood pressure may drop but usually returns to normal as the person is placed in a lying-down position; the skin is cool, damp, and pale. The patient IS dehydrated. The person usually recovers with rest and replacement of water and salt.
A severe and sometimes fatal condition that results from the failure of the body to regulate its temperature. This is caused by prolonged exposure to the sun or to high temperatures. Lessening or lack of sweating is an early symptom. Body temperature of 105 degree Fahrenheit or higher, fast pulse rate, hot and dry skin, headache, confusion, blackouts, and convulsions may occur. The patient may have fluid and body sodium depletion as seen in classic heat exhaustion.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke may affect otherwise healthy people, particularly after physical exertion in a hot climate. People who come from temperate climates and travel to the tropics need time to acclimatize to the heat before they can safely exert themselves.
The body’s cooling mechanisms are less efficient in babies and elderly people, making them more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Obesity, diabetes mellitus, alcohol dependence and chronic heart failure, all decrease the body’s ability to lose heat. Diarrhea may contribute to dehydration and increase the risk of developing heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
After prolonged exposure to hot conditions, the following symptoms of heat exhaustion may develop:
1. Profuse Sweating
3. Muscle cramps
4. Nausea and vomiting
5. Faintness and unsteadiness
If exposure to heat continues, the body temperature rises and heatstroke may develop, causing symptoms such as:
1. Cessation of sweating
2. Body temperature of 105 degree Fahrenheit or higher
3. Rapid and shallow breathing
4. Rapid heartbeat
5. Elevated or lowered blood pressure
6. Confusion and disorientation
8. Fainting, which may be the first sign in older adults
Left untreated, heat stroke may progress to coma. Death may result due to kidney failure, acute heart failure, or direct heat induced damage to the brain.
WHAT CAN I DO TO TREAT IT?
Heat exhaustion can be treated easily. The affected person should rest in a cool place, ideally in an air- conditioned building, and sip cool, salty drinks until he or she feels comfortable. If heat stroke is suspected, he or she should be admitted to the hospital as soon as possible.
FIRST AID FOR ANY HEAT ILLNESS
Move patient to a cool or shaded area.
Patient should be lying down with feet elevated, if possible.
Fan patient and sponge skin with cool water.
Provide cool fluids to drink (water is best)–only if the patient is alert!
Contact emergency transport crew.
WHAT MIGHT THE DOCTOR DO?
Once in the hospital, an examination is done, and blood tests are carried out to assess the level of salts in the blood.
Treatment of heat stroke is usually carried out in a critical care unit. The body temperature is lowered by sponging the body with tepid water or loosely wrapping the person in a wet sheet and placing him or her near a fan. Intravenous fluids are given. Once the body temperature has been reduced to 100 degree F(38 degree), these cooling procedures are stopped to prevent hypothermia (below) from developing. Monitoring is still carried out continuously to make sure that the body temperature returns to normal level and that the vital organs are functioning normally. In some severe cases, mechanical ventilation may be required to help breathing.
Most people with heat exhaustion recover in a few hours if they are moved to a cooler place and fluids are gradually replaced. If heat stroke is treated promptly, most people usually recover after a few days of bed rest, although their body temperature may fluctuate for several weeks afterwards.
CAN IT BE PREVENTED?
Heat-related disorders can be largely prevented by avoiding strenuous exertion in the heat of the day, spending as much time as possible in the shade, consuming large quantities of liquids, and avoiding alcoholic beverages.
HOMEOPATHIC TREATMENT AND REMEDIES
The following homoeopathic medicines can be given according to the totality of symptoms.
Heat Cramps: Belladonna, Natrum mur., Colocynth, Cuprum met. & China
Heat Exhaustion: Natrum carb., Selenium, Gelsemium & Lachesis
Sun (Heat) Stroke: Glonine, Natrum carb., Belladonna, Lachesis, Amyl nit. Q for inhalation.
Here are some useful indications:
1. Aconite: – It is the best remedy when the cause is lying with head exposed to the direct rays of sun. Patient < after sleep. There is faintness and dizziness.
2. Antimonium crud: – All symptoms seem to center around the mind and the stomach, < from the heat of sun, warm air, hot drinks, motion, and bodily exertion > rest, air, hot bath or applied heat.
3. Belladona: – Violent shooting pains in head which come and go suddenly making the patient scream. Heat about the head with cold feet. Blood shot eyes and visible throbbing of the carotids.
4. Bryonia: – Must not be forgotten in summer complaints when great thirst for large quantity of water, amelioration from rest and quiteness are present.
5. Carbo veg: – Lower vitality and great foulness of all the secretions on one side on the flatulence in the upper abdomen and constant desire to be fanned are the main symptoms.
6. Gelsemium: – Useful in sun-stroke, high temperature with drowsiness or tendency to coma, thirstlessness.
7. Glonine: – A most valuable remedy for effects of sun- stroke, great remedy for congestive headaches, hyperaemia of the brain from excess of heat.
8. Lachesis: – One of our best remedies for sun-headaches. Effects of hot weather, patient < after sleep, faintness, dizziness.
9. Lycopodium: – Flatulence or heaviness immediately after eating < towards evening, summer complaints, > un- covering and on getting cold.
10. Natrum carb.: -Chronic effects of sun- stroke; now, with return of hot weather, suffers from headache. Excellent for debility and exhaustion caused by heat of summer; for headache caused by sun, gas-light and from slightest mental exertion; chronic effects of sun-stroke like headache etc.
11. Natrum mur.: – This tissue remedy in the 6x potency proves excellent in sun-stroke and other summer complaints.
12. Nux Moschtata: – Tendency to faint, drowsiness, great dryness without thirst are the special indications of Nux Mos. In summer complaints.
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