As summer temperatures begin to rise so does the risk of developing the life-threatening condition of heat stroke. Anytime anyone has prolonged exposure to being outdoors in hot, humid weather or is participating in physical exertion in high temperatures, our bodies can overheat quickly turning into a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated promptly.
Heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia where our body temperature can rise to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 C) or higher. Weather conditions of high heat and humidity is the prime setup for heat stroke to occur.
Normally our bodies can dissipate heat through the evaporation of sweat. But when the surrounding air is already saturated with water, little cooling can take place and body heat builds up.
People susceptible to heat stroke
Athletes and anyone else doing vigorous physical exertion in high heat and high humidity are at risk of their body not being able to sufficiently expend heat buildup and can result in causing body temperatures to rise as high as 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41.1 C).
Infants, the elderly and anyone working or playing outdoors need to take precautions against heat stroke. The elderly may be taking medications making them vulnerable to dehydration and heat stroke. Never leave infants, children, pets or anyone in a car where temperatures on a hot day can quickly rise. If the outdoor temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the interior temperature of a car can quickly reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit within 90 minutes making it unsafe for any living thing.
Dehydration is another important factor that can lead to heat stroke. A person who is not consuming sufficient fluids may not be able to sweat fast enough to dissipate heat causing body temperature to rise.
Recognizing symptoms of heat stroke
Recognizing the symptoms of heat stroke is vital to getting a person the immediate medical attention they need. Be aware that heat stroke symptoms can sometimes mimic those of a heart attack or other conditions. But if the weather conditions are right and the person has been outdoors for a prolonged period or exerting themselves without drinking enough fluids, the chance of it being heat stroke is likely. Here are symptoms to watch for:
· Clumsiness or stumbling
· Confusion, dizziness, other mental changes, loss of consciousness
· Headache, nausea, vomiting
· Internal (rectal) temperature above 104 degrees Fahrenheit
· Lack of sweating
· Muscle cramping (early warning)
· Racing heart rate
· Rapid breathing
· Skin may feel cool and moist in early stages; hot, dry, and flushed as body temperature rises
How to treat someone with heat stroke
If heat stroke is suspected, immediately call 911 for medical attention. The faster you treat a victim of heat stroke, the greater chance of avoiding permanent organ damage or death. Until medical emergency personnel arrives here is what can be done to protect the victim:
· Get the victim to a shady area, removing clothing and applying cool or tepid water to their skin. Also fan the victim to promote sweating and evaporation and place ice packs under the armpits or groin.
· Offer them cool water or other cool beverages (no alcohol or caffeine containing beverages) if they are able to drink.
How to avoid heat stroke
Taking certain precautions is key in avoiding the serious consequence of heat stroke. Be mindful of when the weather conditions are perfect for the setup of heat stroke. Here are some ways to reduce the likelihood of this occurring:
· Avoid becoming dehydrated. When outdoors, always have access to cool water taking frequent breaks to hydrate yourself. Avoid alcohol and caffeine containing beverages which can lead to dehydration.
· Avoid vigorous physical activities in hot and humid weather.
· Wear a hat and light-colored, lightweight, loose clothing. Never wear heavy, dark clothing as they will retain heat.
Sweating excessively or performing vigorous activity in the sunlight for prolonged periods of time can result in loss of electrolytes like sodium. Consuming sports drinks or having food like a trail mix or whole grain crackers can help replenish these vital substances.