Heat stroke is a true medical emergency that can be fatal if not properly and promptly treated.
The body normally generates heat as a result of metabolism, and is usually able to dissipate the heat by either radiation of heat through the skin or by evaporation of sweat.
However, in extreme heat, high humidity, or vigorous physical exertion under the sun, the body may not be able to dissipate the heat and the body temperature rises, sometimes up to 106 F (41.1 C) or higher.
Another cause of heat stroke is dehydration.
Those most susceptible individuals to heart strokes include:
- The elderly (often with associated heart diseases, lung diseases, kidney diseases, or who are taking medications that make them vulnerable to dehydration and heat strokes),
- Athletes, and
- Individuals who work outside and physically exert themselves under the sun.
Common symptoms and signs of heat stroke include:
- High body temperature,
- The absence of sweating, with hot red or flushed dry skin,
- Rapid pulse,
- Difficulty breathing,
- Strange behavior,
How do you treat a heat stroke victim?
Victims of heat stroke must receive immediate treatment to avoid permanent organ damage. First and foremost, cool the victim.
- Get the victim to a shady area, remove clothing, apply cool or tepid water to the skin (for example you may spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose), fan the victim to promote sweating and evaporation, and place ice packs under armpits and groin.
- Monitor body temperature with a thermometer and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101 to 102 F (38.3 to 38.8 C).
- Always notify emergency services (911) immediately. If their arrival is delayed, they can give you further instructions for treatment of the victim.
How can heat stroke be prevented?
- The most important measures to prevent heat strokes are to avoid becoming dehydrated and to avoid vigorous physical activities in hot and humid weather.
- If you have to perform physical activities in hot weather, drink plenty of fluids (such as water and sports drinks), but avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tea which may lead to dehydration.
- Your body will need replenishment of electrolytes (such as sodium) as well as fluids if you sweat excessively or perform vigorous activity in the sunlight for prolonged periods.
- Take frequent breaks to hydrate yourself. Wear hats and light-colored, lightweight, loose clothes.