The Symptoms of Heat Sickness: Staying Safe During the Oregon Heat Wave

As yet another heat wave hits the great state of Oregon, it’s understandable that people would get worried over their own wellbeing.

While many understand that heat sickness and heatstroke is bad, many aren’t quite aware of just how bad it can be. To give you some perspective on how dangerous a heatwave can get, you should think back to the North Pacific heat wave event in 2021. Over 800 people in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia died during June/July of 2021, with their deaths being blamed on the heat wave. If you don’t think it can happen to you, you should think again.

The best way to prevent going into heatstroke and possibly dying is to know what to look out for, how to treat yourself when you’re overheating, and how to help others stay safe.

So what are the symptoms of heat sickness? And at what point can you confidently say that you’re about to have a heatstroke?

Well, I’ll give you the rundown, and just how to protect yourself and the ones you love from overheating.


Symptoms of Heat Sickness

Symptoms of Heat Sickness

What is heat sickness, also known as heat exhaustion? Well, it’s much more than just getting too hot, though. Your body is constantly fighting to regulate its core temperature. When your temperature gets too high, however, and your body is no longer able to cool itself down through sweat, you go into heat exhaustion.

Heat sickness can happen gradually over time, or it can happen within minutes. It’s mainly related to being in hot temperatures for a long period of time, but it’s usually exacerbated through strenuous physical activity. If untreated, it can and will lead to heatstroke, which can be very lethal.

Here are the symptoms to look out for when you’re under the hot sun:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid, shallow breaths
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, or hands
  • Fever
  • Muscle cramps
  • Low blood pressure upon standing
  • Rapid, yet weak pulse
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Cool, moist skin and goosebumps when under heat

If you think you are suffering from heat exhaustion, you need to stop all activities and get to a cooler area immediately.


Causes/Risk Factors of Heat Sickness

Causes and Risk Factors of Heat Sickness

When you’re doing physical activity, your body is constsntly losing fluids through sweat, and along with it goes all those electrolytes. These electrolytes are minerals like potassium or sodium that keep your body functioning. If your body is deficient in both fluids and electrolytes, it will go onto dehydration, and dehydration is what spurs on heat sickness.

Looking at the bigger picture, however, the big trigger is heat. When your body works out, it heats up and causes sweat, and when you combine that with constantly being under the sun or in a place without ventilation and too much heat, there will come a point where you can no longer cool yourself down.

There are also certain risk factors involved as well, where certain aspects about them can make heat sickness all the more likely in their case.

Here are the factors that will make an individual more at risk of heat exhaustion:

  • Weight. The more weight you carry, the more you’re likely to get heat sickness. As your body grows bigger, it will have a harder time cooling itself down since sweat glands are fairly limited and it has more mass it’s in charge of regulating in terms of temperature.
  • Age. Kids and older individuals are more likely to become victim to heat exhaustion. Specifically, children under the age of 4 and adults over the age of 65 are far more likely to get heatstroke due to their bodies having more difficulty cooling themselves off. They are also more likely to become dehydrated.
  • Environment. Believe it or not, someone who lives out in the desert is less likely to get heatstroke than someone who lives in a hot and very humid environment. People who are not used to hot environments are more likely to get heat sickness.
  • Alcohol. Drinking alcohol will dehydrate yoy significantly, and with dehydration comes the potential for heat illness. Not to mention, alcohol makes regulating your body’s temperature fairly difficult. That is why you should always be mindful of when and where you drink. Drinking under the hot sun can certainly cause some type of heat illness.


What to Do if You Have Heat Sickness

What to Do if You Have Heat Sickness in Oregon

If you are suffering from heat exhaustion, you need to stop everything you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if the lawn needs to be trimmed or you haven’t finished your project; just stop what you’re doing and get out from the heat.

You need to find a place with shade as soon as you can, preferably indoors and with good ventilation. If you can, take a cold shower, or take a cold wet washcloth and place it either on your forehead or on the back of your neck. Make sure to grab some water and take small sips. If you have any sports drinks, that’s even better. Drink those, as they’re filled with electrolytes that your body needs to function properly.

Sit down, or even lie down. Your body needs to rest as much as possible to recover.

If you are still experiencing the symptoms of heat sickness after an hour of this, you should seek help, as that is not normal.


How to Prevent Heat Sickness

We know the causes, the risk factors, and what to do if you’re struck with heat exhaustion. How can we prevent it from happening, though? Well, it may seem common sense in hindsight, but in the moment, we tend to overestimate the limits of our bodies.

If you are planning on going out or working during the Oregon heat wave, here are some things you need to know about preventing heat sickness:

  • Hydrate. The general rule of thumb is that you should take a sip every 30 minutes or so if you want to stay hyrdrated.
  • Pick a good time to tackle outdoor activities. The heat wave will not be kind on you just because you want to be productive and mow you lawn. Try working during the early morning or when the sun is beginning to set, or just wait until the hest wave passes.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise in heat. When you exercise, your body heats up and you dehydrate. Never good during a heat wave.
  • Understand your risks. If you’re getting on in the years, are overweight, or have a lifestyle or conditions that may have you struggling during the heat wave, it’s best you take extra precautions.


Be Mindful of Pets, Kids, and Older Relatives

Pets and Kids during a heat wave

Have you ever heard the term “if you’re cold, they’re cold”? It refers to the fact that if you are suffering from the cold, then it’s likely that your pet is also feeling the effects. Here is a guide on how to keep your pets safe during the summer months.

Because they’re domesticated, they’re not able to survive in extreme freezing temperatures. What they don’t tell you is that it’s the same the other way around, including in a heatwave where the temperature is breaching into the 110s. Even a fish in a fish bowl can die in that sort of heat if left outside all day. It doesn’t help that cats and dogs don’t have sweat glands, and they can only cool themselves off through outside means like panting or drinking water to stay hydrated.

Here are the symptoms present in a pet suffering from heatstroke:

  • Diarrhea
  • Shaking
  • Purplish gray gums/tongue
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive restlessness
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive panting
  • The inability to stand

You should also remember to watch out for kids. Children can suffer from heat stroke as well, though their small bodies are a lot more vulnerable. Kids can overreact to pretty much anything, but they’re also oblivious to the symptoms of heatstroke. If a child is present during a particularly sweltering moment of a heatwave, and they suddenly tell you they aren’t feeling good, you’re going to want to pay attention and have them get inside.

For older people, they can usually tell when they’re having a tough time and are more aware of their limits. Even still, if an older relative or friend has been out in the heat wave, make sure to check in often, and if they need help cool down, make sure you do so.

Lastly, never ever leave your pet, kid, or older relative in a hot car by themselves, even if you’re just going in and out of a store.


Final Thoughts

As the Oregon heat wave continues to ravage the fair state, all we can really hope to do is keep our heads on, stay cool, and wait for it to pass. This isn’t the first time Oregon has had such a large heat wave, and it won’t be the last. However, this will in fact pass, so the most important thing to remember is how to prevent heat sickness and keep yourself safe.

In essence, make sure you’re safe and well-hydrated. Not only that, but also be sure to keep in contact with pets, children, and older family, as they are particularly vulnerable to heatstroke. Until it’s finally over, just remember to keep your fan on and drink plenty of water.


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