Summer is here, and with the soaring temperatures comes a serious heat-related affliction – heatstroke. According to the CDC, on average, 658 Americans die each year from heat-related causes. In this article, we’ll discuss how you can avoid getting heatstroke and how to cure it if you or someone else suffers from it.
Recognizing the symptoms
Heatstroke doesn’t happen instantaneously, it’s the result of worsening conditions such as heat cramps, heat fainting, and heat exhaustion. If you do strenuous activity and/or stay under the sun too long, your body temperature may rise to frighteningly high levels, causing extreme dehydration (losing a lot of water and salt).
If nothing is done to lower your body temperature, and the lost water and salt isn’t replenished, your body can lose its ability to cool itself. This is when heat cramps, heat fainting, and heat exhaustion set in. Take note of these symptoms:
– Feeling of weakness/fatigue
– Dizziness or fainting spells
– Pounding headache
– Muscle cramps and aches
– Reddening of the skin
– Excessive sweating
– Significant decrease in blood pressure
– Rapid pulse
– Less urination, with urine a darker color
It can get worse
Left untreated, heat exhaustion can turn into full-blown heatstroke. Usually, by the time the victim’s body temperature goes beyond 104 degrees (F),
their condition worsens and the more serious symptoms manifest. As this worsens, besides the symptoms listed above, you’ll have to contend with even more serious accompanying symptoms like:
– Convulsions or seizures
– Erratic behavior
– Lack of sweating (despite the heat)
– Rapid heartbeat
– Rapid, shallow breathing
– Loss of consciousness or coma
Heatstroke can cause death or damage to the brain and other vital organs like the kidneys, liver, and heart. When you even suspect you or someone else is getting a heatstroke, call 911 immediately. Administer first aid until paramedics arrive.
How to prevent heatstroke
As the old adage goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, so take note of the ways you can prevent succumbing to heatstroke:
– Stay indoors, particularly when the sun’s rays are the most intense, from 11 AM to 3 PM.
– Cancel or reschedule your outdoor activity to cooler times of the day, such as early morning or after sunset.
– Wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes along with a wide-brimmed hat if possible.
– Use sunscreen each time you go outdoors. Use sunscreens with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating of 30 and above.
– Drink plenty of fluids. At least 8 glasses of water, fruit or vegetable juice daily.
– Take an electrolyte-replacement sports drink when it’s very hot and humid to prevent salt depletion. Low salt in the blood can also give rise to heat-related illnesses.
– Limit intake of alcohol and carbonated drinks; these can cause dehydration.
– Be extra cautious when working or exercising outdoors. Drink at least 24 ounces of fluid at least an hour before any physical exertion, and another 8 ounces right before you exercise or work. As you exercise, drink another 8 ounces of water (or sports drink) every 20 minutes; drink even if you don’t feel thirsty.
How to apply first aid
To reverse the effects of heatstroke, follow these important steps:
- Move the person to a cool area – preferably an air-conditioned environment. If that isn’t possible, at least get them out of the sun and onto a shaded, cooler area.
- Remove any unnecessary clothing.
- Wet the person’s skin with water from a sponge or hose, while fanning the patient for a few minutes.
- Next, put icepacks on the patient’s armpits, neck, groin and back. These spots are full of blood vessels close to the surface of the skin, so cooling these areas will cool the blood, which in turn will circulate throughout their body, lowering their temperature.
- Finally, immerse the patient in a shower or tub with cool water. Be sure to let them cool off slowly, allowing the process to be done gradually. Abruptly immersing the patient in cold water could make them go into shock.
- If the patient is young and healthy, and their heatstroke was brought on by too much vigorous exercise, this is known as exertional heatstroke. This can be treated by using an ice bath to cool the body.
- Unconscious patients should be placed in the recovery position (see below) to allow normal breathing, and to prevent them from choking should they vomit.
The Recovery Position
When a person is unconscious but breathing, you should place them in the recovery position.
Follow these steps:
Position the patient on his or her back on the floor, and kneel beside them.
Place the arm closest to you at a right angle to their body, keeping that hand upwards and facing toward the head.
Take their other hand, tucking it under the opposite side of their head; the back of their hand should be touching their cheek. Keep that hand in that position.
Bend the knee farthest from you into a right angle, carefully rolling the person onto their side by gently pulling on the bent knee.
Make sure the top arm supports their head, while the bottom arm stops them from rolling farther.
Open the airway. Tilt their head back gently and lift their chin, checking also that nothing is blocking the airway.
Stay with the person and keep track of their condition until paramedics arrive.
It’s called “Death Valley” for a reason
According to the World Meteorological Organization, the record for the highest recorded temperature is 134 degrees (F), which was measured on July 10, 1913 at Greenland Ranch, Death Valley, California. To this day, Death Valley remains the hottest place in the world. In fact, the high temperatures here claim 2-3 victims each year due to heat stroke. The most famous victim was Harry Potter actor David Legeno, who was found dead while hiking in 2014.
There are other factors that increase the chances of a person getting heatstroke. The very young and the very old are more susceptible, as are those with preexisting health concerns like obesity, diabetes, or lung, kidney, or heart diseases. People who are alcoholics, mentally ill, have high blood pressure or ailments that can cause a fever are also more susceptible. To greatly reduce your risk of getting heatstroke, stay healthy, stay indoors with the A/C running as much as possible, and drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids. When temps go high and you start feeling the heat, remember the 3 H’s: a good heart, healthy lifestyle and proper hydration.