Heat exhaustion is a dangerous condition that result from prolonged exposure to the sun and high temperatures. Older adults, children and individuals that are obese or have other health conditions may be more prone to suffering from heat exhaustion. It can exacerbate existing ailments, as well as possibly lead to permanent damage due to heat stroke if left untreated,
For nurses, understanding the symptoms and risk factors associated with heat exhaustion is important for minimizing adverse symptoms and dangerous situations, as well as keeping patients safe and educated before spending time outdoors during the summer. As always, nursing skill is a balance between clinical intervention and friendly, supportive prevention.
Signs of heat exhaustion
According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of heat exhaustion may come about suddenly or over the course of a few hours. For that reason, patients may visit the doctor's office or hospital unaware of what is causing any pain or discomfort.
The most common signs of heat exhaustion are heavy sweating, fatigue and/or feeling dizzy or faint. An individual may also feel cool to the touch and begin to exhibit a weak but rapid pulse. In more severe instances, symptoms may include muscle cramps, low blood pressure or nausea. The Mayo Clinic stated that one should seek medical attention if these conditions last for over an hour, or if an individual has a body temperature of 104 F or higher.
The American Academy of Family Physicians reported that heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which is a much more serious condition. This affects the central nervous system and may cause either delirium or even a coma. With time, heatstroke can lead to more serious and dangerous side effects, including death.
How nurses can help
Medical intervention can be instrumental in reversing or mitigating any concerns related to heat exhaustion or heatstroke, and especially for patients admitted with vague symptoms, catching these conditions right away is very important. On days where the temperature is especially high or the air is humid, nurses should consider heat exhaustion for individuals suffering from fatigue or nausea.
Nurses play a major role in spreading awareness about the ailment. Patients may be unaware of the specific risks and symptoms related to heat exhaustion, and for older adults especially, taking the time to explain how to spot and prevent the condition is helpful.
This includes being very mindful about the temperature and dressing accordingly. Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen are incredibly useful for reducing the risks of prolonged sun exposure. Likewise, information related to staying hydrated and exercising in moderation can be useful.
Nurses should also explain that anyone showing mild signs of heat exhaustion should find a cool place to rest and rehydrate. A cold shower or wet wash cloth can cool the blood and mitigate the problem. By working with patients, family members and caregivers, nurses can also spread awareness about when it is important to reach out to a medical professional.