It’s fairly common to have basic knowledge about hypothermia. We hear as kids that we can’t stay out in the snow or the cold too long. Hypothermia is when your body temperature drops lower than it is supposed to. This in turn can cause some major medical problems – and even death. Did you know that the exact opposite can occur too? Hyperthermia is the less commonly known issue regarding temperature regulation.
If hypothermia is when your body’s temperature decrease too much then hyperthermia is when your body’s temperature has increased too high. As we know, the temperature in your body should be right around, if not exactly at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When it enters into feverish conditions is when we start to see some major problems.
Unlike hypothermia, there are really a lot of different ways that you can experience hyperthermia. We’ve listed some of the major ones below.
This one is fairly common and you’ve probably heard of it before. Ironically, it’s one of the more severe stages of hyperthermia. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body can no longer cool itself. You’ll definitely be sweating profusely. In addition to that sign, you may also experience dizziness, weakness, intense thirst, difficulty concentrating, an increased heart rate, and your skin may feel cool and clammy to the touch. This is the very last stage before heat stroke occurs. It is incredibly important, at any stage, but especially at this point, that you rest, hydrate, and cool down if you begin experiencing these symptoms.
The very first stage of having your body get too warm is heat stress. And guess what? You may have experienced this. When you’re hot, your body naturally starts to attempt to cool itself by sweating. If you are unable to cool yourself by just sweating you are experiencing heat stress. It can lead to complications but is an early stage of hyperthermia is not severe on its own. In addition to feeling uncomfortably hot, you may also have a slight headache, feel thirsty, or nauseous. You may even begin to feel weak or dizzy.
If you go through heat stress but are not able to hydrate and cool off you will enter into heat fatigue. Heat fatigue is when your body is undergoing long hours of heat. In addition to physical discomfort, you will also experience physiological discomfort as well. You may not even know that you are experiencing heat fatigue. Working outdoors in the sun for an extended amount of time, especially if you aren’t used to that, can easily set your body into this stage of hyperthermia. In addition to being hot, thirsty, and tired, you may also begin struggling to concentrate.
Syncope is a fancy way of saying fainting. When you faint from the heat it’s because your blood pressure has dropped too low and the blood flow to the brain is reduced temporarily.
This can happen if you are exerting yourself in an extremely hot environment. Again, yard work, exercising, etc. can cause heat syncope. If you happen to be on a medication to lower your blood pressure you are actually at greater risk for heat syncope.
Before you faint you will probably feel dizzy and light-headed. Take this as a serious sign to sit down, cool down, and hydrate.
Following intense activity or exercise, you may experience heat cramps. These are typically the result of an imbalance of electrolytes in the body. The body becomes unbalanced when too many electrolytes are lost through sweating. Most commonly you’ll experience these cramping sensations in the abdomen, legs, or arms. To relieve cramps you’ll need to hydrate and cool down.
Heat edema is basically when your limbs, specifically your hands, ankles, or lower legs, swell due to the heat. This can happen if you are sitting or standing in the sun for an extended period of time and are not used to it. The swelling actually occurs when fluid builds up in your extremities. This will usually resolve on its own with rest and when you cool down. Staying hydrated, of course, will always help as well.
Sometimes being active in the heat for a long period of time can cause a rash. Red pimple-like bumps can occur on the skin. This is most common under clothing when the fabrics become soaked with sweat and rub against the skin. This will usually calm down once you cool off, and of course, change your clothing.
Heatstroke is the most severe and dangerous stage of hyperthermia. Heatstroke occurs when the internal temperature of the body reaches or goes above, 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The most common first sign of this is fainting. You may also experience a decrease in sweating, flushing of the skin, confusion, and/or a changed heart rate.
No matter what stage of hyperthermia you find yourself in you will want to immediately hydrate and rest in order to cool down. Ideally, you’ll be able to head to a location with air-conditioning. Drink water, or even better, a sports drink that can quickly replenish electrolytes. You can also take a cold shower or bath to help regulate your body temperature. Placing bags of ice under your arms or around your groin area will also help cool your temperature down more quickly.
If you are doing these actions and are not seeing any change or results then seek medical attention as soon as possible.