What is Heat Stroke?
Summer is a fun time full of beach trips, grilling, and enjoying the warm weather. But with summer in full swing, you might also want to be mindful of some of the dangers extreme heat can have on your body. Apart from wearing sunscreen to prevent sunburn, you should be aware of heat stroke and what to do if you or anyone else is suffering from one. Read on to learn more and how to protect yourself so you can fully enjoy the summer.
Heat stroke is one of the most serious heat-related illnesses. It is caused by prolonged exposure to heat or when you perform physical exertion in high temperatures. This causes your body to overheat to the point where it can no longer control its own temperature. This results in your body temperature rising rapidly. Without help, you could be left with serious complications that can even result in death.
Causes of Heat Stroke
If heat stroke is a result of exposure to a hot environment, this is called non-exertional heat stroke. This mainly occurs in older adults and people with chronic illnesses. Heat stroke that occurs while doing intense activity is called exertional heat stroke. This can happen when you are not used to working in high, hot temperatures.
There are several symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, some more severe than others. These include the following:
- Elevated Body Temperature
Where the temperature of the body is over 104° F
- Altered Mental State
Confusion, irritability, agitation, delirium, seizures, slurred speech, comas in extreme cases
- Alteration in Sweating
If brought on by hot weather your skin will feel hot and dry
If brought on by exercise your skin will feel dry or slightly moist
- Fast Heart Rate
Your heart works faster from the stress put on your body trying to cool down
- Headaches, Nausea and Vomiting
- Rapid/Shallow Breathing
- Flushed Skin
- Decreased Urine Output
There are a few risk factors that increase your risk of developing heat stroke, anyone can still develop it. Here are a few:
- Age: Heat strokes affect your nervous system. Those who are over 65 or very young have a higher chance of getting heat stroke because their nervous system is still developing or it is deteriorating from age.
- Exposure to Hot Weather: Any sport or activity in hot weather can cause a heat stroke, make sure to try to get some shade and stay very hydrated.
- Sudden Exposure to Hot Weather: If you are not accustomed to hot weather, make sure you give your body time to adjust, especially if traveling somewhere where the climate is warmer than what you are used to.
- Lack of Air Conditioning: While fans can work, air conditioning can help your body stay cool and lower the humidity.
- Certain Medications: Ask your doctor if your medications can affect your chance of getting heat stroke. Be extra careful if you are taking any of the following; vasoconstrictors, beta-blockers, diuretics, antidepressants, and antipsychotics.
- Certain Health Conditions: Some chronic illnesses like heart or lung disease can increase your chance of having heat stroke. Talk to your doctor about whether anything puts you at an increased risk and what precautions you can take.
While heat stroke can happen to anyone, you are still able to prevent it from happening by taking a few safety measures. Heat stroke is both predictable and preventable. Here are a few tips to avoid heat stroke for you and your loved ones:
- Wear loose-fitting and lightweight clothing: this allows your body to cool down properly.
- Protection against sunburn: sunburn affects how your body cools down, preventing sunburns by using sunscreen allows your body to cool down effectively.
- Stay hydrated: the more fluids you have, the more your body will sweat and keep your body at a normal temperature.
- Be cautious with medications: some medications can affect how you dissipate heat.
- Be careful on the hottest parts of the day: schedule your time outside when it’s cooler rather than when the sun is at its highest and hottest in the afternoon.
- Get acclimated: if you are not used to the hot weather, let your body slowly get accustomed before taking part in any strenuous activities.
- Be cautious if you are at risk: if you have a condition or medication that puts you at risk of heat stroke, try to avoid the extreme heat and make sure to act quickly if you do notice yourself overheating.
How to Help
If someone you know is experiencing heat stroke, make sure you get help immediately. You should call 911 or a local emergency number because heat stroke can be serious and result in complications. Heat stroke can damage your vital organs or even result in death if not treated in a timely matter. While you wait for help there are a few things you can do to help. Move the person into a shaded area or indoors if possible. Try to remove any excess clothing that could contribute to heat stroke. Finally, try to cool the person off however you can. This means turning on a fan or air conditioning, trying to put some water on them to cool them down, place ice packs or wet towels on their head and neck. These will help them start to cool off while you wait for help.