Recognizing and preventing heat stroke when hiking

Best hikes for the sunset at Bryce Canyon
Illnesses related to heat, like heat stroke and heat exhaustion, are one of the many injuries hikers succumb to while outdoors, especially in hot, sunny areas like Bryce Canyon. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are very serious issues which must be treated immediately. If these conditions go untreated, they can lead to serious, long-term issues and, in extreme cases, death.

Luckily, hikers who are knowledgeable about heat exhaustion and heat stroke are less likely to be affected by these issues. By knowing what heat exhaustion and heat stroke are, preventing them from occurring, recognizing their symptoms, and being able to administer the proper treatment, hikers will be much safer during their outdoor excursions. The following information will be invaluable when things get too hot out on the trails.

What is Heat Exhaustion?

Before full-blown heat stroke hits, heat exhaustion will be experienced. Heat exhaustion is something that many people have experienced, whether they know it or not. Any time people are out in the heat for an extended time, they are at risk for heat exhaustion. Concerts, amusement parks, and other outdoor venues often have emergency personnel available, and most of the people they treat are seeking help for heat exhaustion.

A combination of the heat and the sun can dehydrate people much quicker than they are used to. On a normal day, a few glasses of water may be enough to stay hydrated, but when out in the heat, water intake will need to be doubled, or even tripled, to ward off heat exhaustion. When heat exhaustion strikes, individuals will often feel lethargic, dizzy, nauseous, and a slew of other symptoms. If any of these or any concerning symptoms occur, it’s imperative that the affected person receives proper treatment for heat exhaustion. Left untreated, heat exhaustion will quickly develop into heat stroke.

What is Heat Stroke?

Once heat exhaustion has gone untreated, the afflicted person will begin experiencing symptoms of heat stroke. Heat stroke is not something that should be taken lightly, as it can quickly lead to irreversible injuries and death.

Heat stroke is one of the deadliest dangers of hiking, especially in hot climates. While most hikers will notice signs of heat exhaustion and either seek treatment or treat themselves, sometimes that is not the case. For example, when hikers get lost during their journey, they may not be able to avoid heat stroke as their water supply dwindles and their access to shade decreases. This is a terrifying and deadly situation that one too many people find themselves in while exploring the hot, red rock landscapes of the west. To avoid this fate, hikers will want to be familiar with their surroundings and be able to recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion.

Preventing Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

The best thing hikers can do is avoid heat exhaustion altogether. There are many factors that can cause heat exhaustion and heat stroke, such as dehydration and overheating, and there are many ways to avoid these issues. When hikers practice these safety measures and pay attention to their bodies, they are much less likely to fall victims to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Avoid the Sun

This may seem like an impossible task, especially when visiting somewhere like Bryce Canyon, but staying out of the sun is key to reducing the risk of heat stroke. There are many ways to avoid the sun while still enjoying the outdoors. Hikers can head outdoors in the morning before the afternoon sun starts beating down. They can also enjoy an evening hike once the sun begins to set. For hikers who want to be out during the afternoon, staying in shaded areas and wearing multiple layers of sun protection, like sunscreen, hats, and UPF clothing, will help reduce the risk of overheating from the sun’s rays.

Wear Proper Clothing

Being overdressed and underdressed are both dangerous when it comes to hiking. Too much clothing, and hikers won’t be able to properly regulate their body temperature, which will quickly cause them to overheat. Too little clothing, and hikers will be overexposed to the sun and are more likely to suffer from sunburns. The happy medium is lightweight clothing, preferably with a UPF rating, that wicks moisture away from the body and covers much of the skin. A long sleeved, lightweight athletic shirt and a pair of light pants or shorts, is the perfect wardrobe for a hike.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is all too common in visitors to Bryce Canyon. The usual amount of water guests are used to drinking each day will need to be increased drastically to replace fluids lost during a hike. At least one liter, or quart, of water, is needed for every two hours of hiking. This can be carried in bottles or a wearable hydration pack. It is best to continuously sip water, even when not feeling thirsty, instead of chugging water infrequently.

Grab a Snack

Hiking on an empty stomach is never a good idea. In fact, the body's ability to absorb water when it doesn’t have the food and energy it needs is greatly reduced. Bringing small, high-protein snacks, like jerky, nuts, seeds, and protein bars, will help keep hikers full and hydrated during their hikes.

Take a Break

The desire to see as many trails as possible during a trip to Bryce Canyon can lead hikers to try and hike the trails quickly. This can be incredibly dangerous, and even deadly. When hikers are only focused on a fast hike, they are more likely to ignore their body’s signs and resist taking breaks during their journey. Instead of racing through the hike, hikers should stop and rest in any shaded spots they find. This will keep the body’s temperature regulated and ward off heat exhaustion.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Knowing what symptoms to look for when it comes to heat exhaustion and heat stroke is the best way to prevent serious injuries from these conditions. Keeping an eye out for these symptoms, both in themselves and fellow travelers, can mean the difference between a safe, enjoyable hike and a medical disaster.

Heat Exhaustion

Before heat exhaustion sets in, hikers will usually notice that something feels “off” with their body. The signs that occur before heat exhaustion are often a slight shaky feeling, mild headache, and the urge to sit down. This is the body trying to say that it needs a break from the activity. When these signs are ignored, or if the hiker is unable to find a place to cool off and rehydrate, heat exhaustion will begin to set in.A few signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Excessive Sweating
  • Extreme Thirst
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Abnormal Heart Beat
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Cold Chills

Heat Stroke

If the above symptoms haven’t ceased after 30 minutes, the victim will begin suffering from heat stroke. Once a person is suffering from heat stroke, emergency personnel should be alerted. Calling a rescue team or 911 as soon as heat stroke sets in is very important. Heat stroke can cause irreversible damage to the brain, nervous system, and the rest of the body if it is not treated quickly. Left untreated, heat stroke can lead to death. Therefore, as soon as symptoms of heat stroke appear, professionals should be alerted so the victim can receive proper treatment.

A few signs of heat stroke include:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Red, Hot Skin
  • Lack of Sweat
  • Shallow Breathing
  • Delirium

Treating Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

When signs of heat exhaustion begin, it is important to start treatment immediately to reverse the heat exhaustion and prevent heat stroke. By implementing these treatments, most people will quickly recover from their heat exhaustion and avoid heat stroke.

Take a Rest in the Shade

Finding a cool, shady spot with plenty of airflow is the easiest way to allow the body to cool down. Hikers suffering from heat exhaustion should sit down and slowly sip water until the effects of heat exhaustion subside.

Wade into Water

If there is a suitable body of water nearby, submerging into the cool water can quickly drop the body's temperature. Hikers can slowly wade into shallow water and rest, but they shouldn’t wade into water that requires them to swim, as that will only add to their physical exhaustion.

Take Off Clothing

Once in a cool, shady spot, hikers can remove gear and clothing, especially hats, shoes and socks, and backpacks. Getting these extra layers off the skin will allow cool air to help reduce their body temperature.

Stay Cool in Bryce Canyon

When enjoying a hike along the Bryce Canyon landscape, it is important to consider the dangers related to participating in outdoor adventures. By being aware of how to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke, knowing the signs they present, and being able to treat these ailments, hikers can have a cool, safe, and comfortable hike along the gorgeous Bryce Canyon landscape.

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