Yes, it is an emergency!
When summer is here, it’s great to be outside enjoying the weather. However, the heat that comes with summer is something that you should be mindful of. How it affects your body can be unexpected. Your body’s response to being overheated can range from mild to moderate to severe. We have already looked at heat cramps and heat exhaustion. Now, we’ll look at heat stroke and the consequences it can have on you!
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness that occurs after prolonged exposure to high temperatures combined with dehydration due to lack of fluid intake. It is a progression from less severe heat illnesses and is the failure of the body’s temperature control system. It is defined as having a core body temperature > 104°F and can cause damage to the brain or other internal organs. In severe cases, it can lead to death. Due to this, it is considered a medical emergency and needs to be treated quickly. Very similar to heat exhaustion, it is strongly related to heat index. Heat index is how hot you feel when the effects of relative humidity and air temperature are combined. This is why it might be 90°F actual temperature but feels like 100°F because it is dependent on how much humidity is present. A relative humidity of 60% or more hinders the body’s ability to cool because it decreases sweat evaporation. (Note: heat index is higher when you are in full sunshine.) A few other factors play a part in the likelihood of you getting heat stroke, such as age (≤4 or ≥65 adjust to heat more slowly), certain health conditions and certain medications. A few other considerations that can contribute to developing heat stroke include elderly people who do not have air conditioning or good airflow in their house and people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol (which contributes to dehydration). Symptoms that indicate heat stroke include fainting, throbbing headache, dizziness/lightheadedness, lack of sweating despite heat, red/hot/dry skin, muscle weakness/cramps, nausea/vomiting, rapid heartbeat (can be strong or weak), rapid/shallow breathing, confusion/disorientation, staggering while walking, seizures and unconsciousness. If you are having any of these symptoms, you need treatment immediately.
On a side note, there is a condition called exertional heat stroke and it usually affects young, healthy people who suffer heat stroke while exercising vigorously. Since these people most likely do not have underlying medical conditions, it is acceptable to give them an ice bath to help cool them down. Do not do this for any other people experiencing heat stroke as it can actually cause harm to them (possibly even death).
The first step in treating heat stroke is to call 911 and get the person out of the hot environment immediately! You can do this by moving them to a cool place, such as in the shade or inside with air conditioning. The next step is to remove any unnecessary clothing. Cool the person by fanning air over them while wetting their skin. You can also apply ice packs to their armpits/groin/neck/back. Immersing the person in a shower/tub of cool (not cold) water can be helpful. Stay with the person in order to prevent them from drowning in case they lose consciousness. Note: Once the person has recovered, very similar to someone who has experienced heat exhaustion, they will be more sensitive to high temperatures for the following week, so have them avoid hot weather and heavy exercise until a doctor tells them it is ok to resume normal activities.
The best way to prevent getting heat stroke when outside in heat is to drink extra non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic fluids. This is especially important when exercising. The recommendations are the same as heat exhaustion. You should drink 17-20oz of fluid 2-3 hours before you start exercising, 8oz right before you start, 7-10oz every 20 minutes during exercise (even if you don’t feel thirsty) and 8oz within 30 minutes after. If possible, reschedule outdoor activities to the coolest parts of the day (early morning or after sunset). A couple of other things to remember are to wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. Also, use sunscreen of SPF 30 or more to protect your skin from harmful UV rays (this will help keep you slightly cooler as well). Remember to take breaks and go into a shaded or air-conditioned area before you start feeling overheated. If you live in a house without fans or air conditioning, try to spend at least 2 hours a day in an air-conditioned environment. Also, keep curtains/blinds closed during the hottest part of the day and open windows at night on two sides of the house to get cross-ventilation. If you are a senior citizen and can’t afford air conditioning unit or paying for running one, contact the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and they can help with this.
Summer is the time to have fun outside…just take the necessary steps to prepare yourself for the heat! If you have any questions about heat stroke, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC) webpage about heat illnesses at https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/index.html