While there are times when you want to retain as much of your body heat as possible, there are times when the body needs to release as much of it as possible in order to avoid hyperthermia.
Hyperthermia is most often the result of excessive exposure to heat. The heat regulating mechanisms of the body become unable to effectively deal with the heat, therefore the body temperature climbs emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
Hyperthermia is the name given to a variety of heat-related illnesses. For the purposes of this blog post we’ll focus on the hyperthermia that occurs when the body is unable to cool itself sufficiently when challenged by long periods of intense heat and/or activity.
Muscle cramps (a.k.a. "heat cramps") occur when the body's salt content is low. This salt content drops below normal when excessive sweating occurs. Though very painful, cramps are not a dangerous situation. They are, however, an indication that the backcountry user is doing a poor job of monitoring fluid levels. Salt tablets, available at any pharmacy, should be taken on any trip that will involve excessive exercise.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself sufficiently. This generally occurs in warm climates, but can also occur in the mountains. A victim of heat exhaustion is a victim in trouble. Heat exhaustion is generally caused by too much exertion during hot weather. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include moist, clammy skin, weakness, nausea and possible delirium.
Heat exhaustion can be treated in a number of ways. First, the subject should be removed from exposure to the sun, and exposed to a cool place, preferably one that includes air conditioning. Water or juice should be administered to replenish fluids – but alcohol, caffeine, and soda should be avoided. The subject should also be encouraged to shower or bathe, or a cool sponge bath can be considered. Finally, the subject should lie down and rest, ideally in a cool place.
In its advanced state, hyperthermia presents itself as heat stroke or sunstroke, the acute condition which occurs when the body produces or absorbs more heat than it can dissipate.
Heat stoke occurs when heat exhaustion is not treated. A victim of heat stroke is a victim in a life-threatening situation. This is truly a medical emergency. The body has become so over-heated that it is generally no longer able to sweat. Without the ability to sweat, the body cannot cool itself. If this victim were an automobile's radiator, steam would be shooting out of the mouth, nose, ears and eyes.
Symptoms of a victim of heat stroke include dry skin, flushed face, nausea, weakness, delirium and eventually unconsciousness. This person's internal temperature is dangerously high and the possibility of brain damage is introduced
For more information on backcountry safety, check out the Mountain Rescue Associations public education programs @ http://mra.org/training/public-education
Courage - Commitment - Compassion
Mountain Rescue Association
Mountain Rescue Association