Heat Stroke: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Prevention
When summer arrives, temperatures skyrocket – and those high temperatures can leave you suffering from all kinds of heat-related ailments. One of the most common is heat stroke.
While it might not seem serious, heat stroke can cause concerning, dangerous changes in your health. That’s why it’s so important to know what heat stroke is, how quickly it can happen, and what it looks like.
What Is Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke occurs when your body is unable to cool itself down. This can happen due to dehydration or be combined with exposure to high temperatures or physical exertion in the heat.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect someone is suffering from this condition, you should call 911 immediately. The CDC reported 8,081 heat-related deaths in the US between 1999 to 2010. A whopping 94 percent of these deaths occurred during the summer months, or between May and September, with the highest number (3,145) all occurring in July.
What Are the Signs of Heat Stroke?
The predominant symptom of heat stroke is a core body temperature greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
In addition to a high body temperature, heat stroke can also cause the following signs and symptoms.
You may experience an excruciating or throbbing headache. You may also feel lightheaded or dizzy, and you might even faint.
Altered Mental State
When heat stroke happens, symptoms may include confusion, disorientation, irritability, agitation, slurred speech, delirium, and even seizures. Children may become excessively sleepy.
Changes in Sweating
One curious symptom of heat stroke is how you’re sweating – or how you aren’t sweating. Because your body is so hot, you may in fact not be sweating despite the heat. Your skin may feel warm and dry to the touch. Even in heat stroke brought about by strenuous exercise, your skin may merely feel moist.
Nausea and Vomiting
Often, people who are suffering from heat stroke experience gastrointestinal upset. This will make you feel nauseous and want to vomit.
Your skin may turn deep pink or red and be warm to touch when you’re experiencing heat stroke. It might mimic a sunburn at first glance.
You may experience a racing heartbeat – and your pulse may be either strong or weak. This is a sign that your body is trying to pump blood to cool itself down.
Your breaths may become rapid and shallow in response to heat stroke. As your body’s temperature rises, it gets more difficult to cool down, relax, and breathe.
Who Is at Greatest Risk for Heat Stroke?
Those at greatest risk for heat stroke tend to be people over 50 years of age, athletes, and young children under the age of 4 years. Teenage athletes are at a high risk if they’re playing sports in the heat of summer.
People who already have medical issues such as diabetes, COPD(Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), respiratory illness, or cardiac disease are also at heightened risk for developing heat stroke.
It’s important for anyone who’s at a greater risk for possible heat stroke to take efforts to stay cool. Stay out of the sun, ensure that you’re well hydrated, and try to stay in a cool place to keep your body temperature from rising if you fall into any of these high-risk categories.
How Is Heat Stroke Treated?
If you suspect that someone is suffering from heat stroke, make sure to call emergency medical services to get them treatment as soon as possible.
In the meantime, however, you should move the person to a cool, air conditioned area if possible. The goal of heat stroke treatment is to cool the body down and restore the core temperature to a more normal level.
You should also instruct anyone suffering from heat stroke to lie down on their back. Place an article of clothing or other object under their feet so the lower limbs are elevated. Offer them lots of fluids such as water, juice, or sports rehydration drinks.
Lastly, you can try to cool their skin by dampening their skin and fanning them. If you have cold packs, you can apply them around the neck and under the armpits.
How Can I Protect Myself from Heat Stroke?
There’s good news about heat stroke: it’s easily preventable. Though it’s very common during the hottest months of the year, there are ways to prepare your body for the high temperatures and keep yourself as cool as possible.
You can protect yourself from heat stroke by staying out of the sun between 11AM and 3PM. This is the period each day when the sun’s rays are at their brightest, and it’s when the hottest temperatures of the day are reached.
If you do need to go outside, make sure you wear sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Be sure to stay well hydrated, especially if you’re exercising, and drink plenty of cool drinks. It’s also a smart idea to avoid alcohol, which can be dehydrating and cause adverse effects.
Having a spray bottle filled with water handy is also a good way to cool off your skin on hot summer days. This can cool anyone down if temperatures rise.
Remember, you should never leave pets or children inside a car on a hot day. Research shows that the interior of a car parked in the sun on a day when the outside temperature is 98 degrees Fahrenheit will heat up to 118 degrees within 1 hour!
When Should I Visit a Doctor or Call 911?
If someone is uncomfortably hot and their condition hasn’t improved in 30 minutes – or if someone is exhibiting any of the above noted symptoms – then an ambulance should be called.
Heat stroke can, at times, bring mild symptoms and not immediately seem like an urgent condition. So, if you experience milder symptoms on hot days such as tiredness, heat cramps, and fainting, you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Heat stroke is a potentially lethal medical emergency that can take anyone by surprise in the hot summer months. While you’re enjoying being outside in the sun, you’ll need to take simple precautions, such as avoiding excessive exercise during the hottest times of the day and drinking lots of fluids to stay well hydrated. These small steps can help prevent you or your loved ones from becoming a heat stroke victim. Have fun this summer by remembering to stay cool and safe.