Stay Cool and Prevent Heatstroke

Nonexertional heat strokes usually occur in older adults and people with chronic illness.

Woman cooling down with a fan

Heatstroke (sometimes called sunstroke) is a serious form of heat injury. Anybody can be susceptible to heatstroke. It is important to remember the signs and symptoms of heat stroke to identify possible cases of heatstroke. Plus it is also important to remember practices of heatstroke prevention to maintain one’s health and wellness.

What is Heat Stroke?

A heatstroke is a serious form of injury caused by intense heat, mostly through sun exposure. It is considered a medical emergency and requires emergency treatment. Heatstroke is caused by the body overheating to 104 F (40 C), which usually happens in the summer months. It can be caused by the body undergoing prolonged exposure to high temperatures, but it can also be caused by strenuous exercise.

Heatstroke leads to the body’s failure to regulate its temperature.

Heat Stroke Types

  • Nonexertional heat strokes are caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures which raises one’s core body temperature. Nonexertional heat strokes usually occur in older adults and people with chronic illness.
  • Exertional heat strokes are caused by doing intense physical activity in hot weather which raises one’s core body temperature. Anybody can get exertional heat strokes, but those who are not used to high temperatures are the most susceptible.

Heat Stroke Causes

  • Excess clothing. Wearing excess clothing can cause heat strokes, as the extra layers prevent sweat from evaporating and cooling your body.
  • Alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol can cause heat strokes, as alcohol affects the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
  • Dehydration. Being dehydrated can cause heat strokes, as not drinking enough water or fluids does not replenish fluids lost through sweating.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke

  • High body temperature. The main sign of heat stroke is a core body temperature of 104 F (40 C).
  • Headache. The person with heatstroke may experience a throbbing headache.
  • Racing heart rate. The person with heatstroke may feel that his pulse is faster than usual, which is the heart’s attempt to alleviate the heat stress experienced. His heartbeat may either be strong or weak.
  • Rapid breathing. The person with heatstroke may feel that his breathing becomes more rapid than usual and shallow.
  • Red skin. The person with heatstroke may have flushed skin which turns skin red when his body temperature increases.
  • Nausea and vomiting. The person with heatstroke may feel sick to his stomach and feel like he has to vomit.
  • Fainting. The person with heatstroke may faint.
  • Dizziness and light-headedness. The person with heatstroke may feel dizzy or light-headed.
  • Muscle weakness or cramps. The person with heatstroke may experience muscle weakness or cramps.
  • Altered mental state and behavior. The person with heatstroke may feel confused, disoriented, agitated, and irritable. He may slur his speech and stagger. He may also experience delirium, seizures, and fall in a coma.
  • Alteration in sweating. If heat stroke is caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures the person with heatstroke may feel that his skin is dry. If heat stroke is caused by strenuous exercise, he may feel that his skin is either dry or moist.

Dealing with Heat Stroke

Severe complications of heat stroke include damage to vital organs and death. If you think somebody is experiencing heat stroke with the given signs and symptoms, then you must call your local emergency services number. Take note that people may experience heat stroke even without showing any previous signs of heat injury. While waiting for emergency treatment, try to cool the person with heatstroke.

  • Remove the person’s excess clothing
  • Place the person indoors or under the shade
  • Cool the person with any available means, such as giving him a cold shower, hosing him with cool water, fanning him with a cool mist, giving him a cold compress or ice in a bag wrapped in cloth, or giving him wet towels

If the person with heat stroke is older, a young child, has a chronic illness or has heatstroke without strenuous exercise, do not use ice as this can be dangerous.

Risk Factors for Heat Stroke

  • Old age
  • Infants and children up to age 4
  • Strenuous physical activities in hot environments
  • An environment with poor airflows
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Chronic diseases
  • Heart, lung, or kidney diseases
  • Obese or underweight
  • High blood pressure, diabetes, or mental illness
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Taking medications such as anticonvulsants, antidepressants, antihistamines, antipsychotics, beta-blockers, blood pressure medications, diet pills, diuretics, heart medications, sedatives, stimulants, tranquilizers, vasoconstrictors
  • Taking illegal stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine
  • Having sunburn

Heat Stroke Prevention

Anybody can be susceptible to heat strokes. Practicing heatstroke prevention maintains one’s health and wellness. Heatstroke prevention practices can reduce modifiable risk behaviors. Heatstroke is preventable and predictable. Practice these heatstroke prevention tips to prevent heat strokes from happening.

Wear Loose and Light Clothing

Wearing loose, lightweight and light-colored clothing that does not wrap the body allows sweat to evaporate and allows your body to cool properly.

Protect Yourself from Sunburn

Getting sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself. Use sunblock (SPF 30 or more), wear sunglasses and hats with wide brims and use umbrellas to be safe.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water and fluids helps your body maintain normal body temperature. Drinking electrolyte drinks is a cause for heatstroke prevention as well, as these reduce your body’s salt depletion in hot environments. Do not drink fluids with caffeine or alcohol, as these can make you lose fluids. Looking at the color of your urine is a way to practice heatstroke prevention as well, as lighter urine indicates sufficient hydration while darker urine is a sign of dehydration.

Be Mindful of Medication

If you are taking any medications that affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated or dissipate heat, be on the lookout for any signs and symptoms of heatstroke.

Never Lock Anyone in Cars

When cars are parked under the sun, the temperature inside can rise 20 F (6.7 C) in as little as 10 minutes, and this exposure to high temperatures can cause heatstroke.

Rest When Hot

If you can schedule strenuous activities during the cooler parts of the day, do this to reduce your susceptibility to heatstroke. If you work during the hotter parts of the day, try to take breaks in between periods of strenuous physical exertion to rest and stay hydrated. Drink water or fluids before, during, and after exercising.

Condition Yourself to the Climate

People who are used to hotter temperatures are less susceptible to heatstroke. Try to get used to hot temperatures before attempting any strenuous activity or prolonged exposure.

Practice Constant Caution if High-Risk

If you have a medical condition or take medications which place you at high risk of getting heart heat strokes, avoid the heat if possible.

Signs and symptoms of Heatstroke

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