The Temperature's Rising: Beware Heatstroke!

With the arrival of summer comes hot, sweltering days and lawns that need mowing: that perfect storm for heatstroke!

When your body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher –  an over-heating most often caused by physical exertion in high temperatures – you may be susceptible to heatstroke. It's a serious matter requiring immediate intervention, as heatstroke untreated can result in damage to your muscles, kidneys, brain and heart.

Besides engaging in strenuous activity in a hot environment, heatstroke can be aggravated by wearing excess clothing that prevents proper evaporation of sweat, and by consuming alcohol and certain medications that affect your body's ability to regulate its temperature properly. Stimulants for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and illegal stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine also make you more vulnerable to heatstroke.

Another aggravating factor with heatstroke is age. The very young, whose central nervous system is not fully developed, and those over the age of 65, whose central nervous system has begun to decay, may have bodies less able to cope with changes in body temperature. Both of these age groups also frequently have difficulty remaining hydrated.

Heatstroke symptoms may include:

  • Throbbing headache
  • Rapid and shallow breathing
  • Flushed skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Racing heart rate

Heatstroke can also alter your mental state, creating confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and even a coma.

If you believe that you or someone you are with may be suffering from heatstroke, call 911 immediately. While waiting for the health professionals to arrive, provide the following first aid:

  • Get the person into shade or indoors
  • Remove excess clothing
  • Cool the person by whatever means available: fan, garden hose, ice packs, etc.

Ultimately, the treatment for heatstroke won't be much different than the first aid that was administered. A doctor will work to lower the patient's body temperature as rapidly as possible, usually by immersing her in cold water. If the treatment to lower the patient's body temperature results in shivering, the doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant. Shivering is the body's natural way to raise its temperature and so runs counter to the treatment of heatstroke.