Look Out For These Heat Exhaustion Symptoms While Camping
As we move into the hottest part of summer, it’s important to consider the environmental risks that RVers, campers, and other outdoorsmen face. Heat exhaustion is a very real threat to anyone who spends a lot of time in the sun. Even though it’s not always obvious from the get-go, there are several heat exhaustion symptoms that can let you know there’s a problem.
As someone who has experienced heat exhaustion myself, it’s not a fun time! It interrupted my whole day and left me feeling weak, nauseous, and shaky. Thankfully, we were able to address it before it evolved into heat stroke, but this condition can be quite serious.
Below, we’ll give you a comprehensive guide to heat exhaustion, including its symptoms, treatment options, prevention, and the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you plan on spending a lot of time in the sun, it’s important to know what to look out for!
What are the most common heat exhaustion symptoms?
First things first, you need to know the warning signs for heat exhaustion. This usually builds up over time and doesn’t hit you all at once. Some people might experience every symptom, while others only have a few. If you experience a combination of the following, it’s time to consider that you might have heat exhaustion.
The Mayo Clinic cites some common heat exhaustion symptoms on their website here. Some warning signs to watch out for include:
- Heavy sweating
- Cool, damp skin
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Muscle cramps
- Low blood pressure (especially when standing up quickly)
- Swollen feet or hands
- Shallow breathing
- Dark urine
- Pale skin
If you or someone around you is experiencing these heat exhaustion symptoms, it’s important to treat them immediately. Heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke if it isn’t promptly dealt with.
Once heat exhaustion has set in, there are several things you can do to treat yourself or others. It’s best if you can get someone to help you because a person who is affected shouldn’t be moving around too much.
First of all, heat exhaustion occurs when your body gets too hot and cannot cool itself down. This is especially common in areas with high heat and high humidity (because your sweat cannot evaporate and cool you down).
Your first priority needs to be lowering your body temperature. If possible, go indoors and find a cool room to lie down in. Otherwise, look for a shady area where you can get out of the sun. Don’t exert yourself in this condition.
Next up, you need to hydrate. Heat exhaustion commonly occurs when someone is dehydrated because they don’t have enough fluids to produce cooling sweat. Drink cool water or sports drinks to replenish fluids and electrolytes. Don’t gulp it down, but take small sips so you can slowly adjust. If you drink too much too soon, you’ll cause more harm than good. Avoid soda and alcohol during this time.
Finally, try to cool down with exterior methods. You can use cold washcloths, air conditioning, fans, or a cool bath/shower to lower your body temperature. If the affected person is wearing tight, restrictive clothing, that should also be removed.
Try all of the methods above for about one hour. If the heat exhaustion symptoms don’t improve during this period, it’s time to seek medical attention (source).
Although heat exhaustion can be treated, it’s better if you can avoid it altogether. Speaking from experience, I definitely would prefer to never go through it again! It’s comparable to the stomach flu and can incapacitate you for several hours. But looking back at my experience, there are several things I could have done to prevent the issue in the first place.
First up, keep an eye on the heat and humidity index. A relative humidity of 60% or higher makes it hard for sweat to evaporate off your body. This can then lead to overheating (source). You can experience heat exhaustion on any warm day, but the risk increases exponentially if the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more. If the heat and humidity are high, limit strenuous activity and try to stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day.
Next, you should know if you are in a high-risk group. Heat exhaustion can affect anyone, but those who are especially young or old are more vulnerable to it. People who are younger than 5 and older than 65 need to take extra precautions when it comes to avoiding heat exhaustion symptoms.
If you do plan to spend time outside during a particularly hot or humid day, you can form good habits to protect yourself. First of all, hydrate! Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you’re not feeling thirsty.
You should also wear appropriate clothing and sun protection. Wear loose, light-colored clothing that is breathable. A sun hat will help you stay cool. Apply sunscreen frequently as well. If you have a bad sunburn, you’re more likely to develop heat exhaustion because your body is warmer than usual (source).
Finally, never leave children or pets in cars on hot days. This is common sense for most people, but it’s still worth mentioning. Even adults can become overheated if they spend too much time in this environment! If you must leave the car for a few minutes, leave the air conditioner running and crack open the doors/windows.
Heat exhaustion vs heat stroke
Heat exhaustion isn’t fun to deal with, but it’s not too dangerous on its own. Most people that are affected and receive proper treatment will have a full recovery within a day or two. However, if the exhaustion is left untreated, it can rapidly change into heat stroke.
This is a serious medical emergency that can be deadly. This occurs when your body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. It can cause brain damage and can be life-threatening for most people (source). According to Health Line, symptoms of heat stroke include:
- High fever (104 or higher)
- Flushed, red skin
- Rapid heartbeat
If heat stroke has begun to set in, you need to seek medical help immediately. While you wait for them to arrive, you need to do everything you can to lower the body temperature of the affected person. Immerse them in a cold bath, mist the skin with cool water, or apply ice packs to high blood flow areas (wrists, neck, groin, armpits, etc). Get them out of the sun and keep them still until help arrives (source).
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke need to be taken seriously. If you feel like you’re becoming dizzy, weak, or nauseous after spending time in the sun, take care of yourself as soon as possible. These conditions can quickly get worse if you ignore them.
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