Keep your cool, stay calm and beat the heat to avoid heat stroke
Heat stroke is nothing to ignore – it does not mean that if you have it, you just get out the sun and into the shade, drink down some water and hopefully be on your way. In fact, heat stroke is a medical emergency. It occurs when your body loses its ability to cool itself, and you become totally dehydrated. Your body is no longer capable of releasing the internal heat out into the environment, and therefore you end up with heat stroke. This is when your body can reach temperatures of over 104° Fahrenheit. Ouch!
Who gets heat stroke and why?
Data shows us that the number of deaths happening from heat stroke occurs when the heat index is over 95° Fahrenheit. You automatically sweat in temperatures that are high, but with heat stroke, your body loses fluids and you become totally dehydrated. When you don’t drink the necessary liquids to replace the fluids you lose, you can develop heat stroke symptoms. The body slows down its ability to release heat into the environment to regulate your temperature. If you are in high temperature areas and you wear dark, heavy type clothing and then still engage in physical activities, you are greatly contributing towards heat stroke factors. There are certain people who are more susceptible. Let’s have a look:
- People over 65 years or older: These elderly people have a harder time, often not sensing early enough that their bodies are overheating. They, therefore, don’t respond to the signs when they see them. And some of these elderly people are on medications as well which can often interfere with the way the body reacts to proper hydration and stress.
- Babies and children: These little ones rely on adults to keep them cooled down and hydrated. They are also more prone to heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses because they have a greater surface area to body mass ratio. More heat gets transferred from the environment to the body. Children, according to researchers, can’t evaporate heat as easily as adults do because their sweat rates are slower and it takes more time before they start sweating. Little ones often don’t realize or even understand that they are becoming dehydrated.
- People who have chronic medical conditions are at risk for heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. These conditions can be obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease. When people have these conditions, they often don’t allow the body to adapt to changes in environmental conditions so quickly or easily. Those with mental illness are also at risk of getting heat stroke more easily simply because they don’t often realize when their body is becoming overheated and dehydrated.
- Those who don’t have access to air conditioning:Research shows that heat stroke risks are reduced when communities have access to air conditioning. Data shows that individuals who own an air-conditioner have a reduced risk of heat-related illnesses.
- Athletes: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the leading cause of death among athletes who train or even compete in high temperatures during the late summer and early autumn months is from heat-related illness.
- Those who work outdoors, particularly in hot climates are at risk for heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health says workers at risk include fire-fighters, farmers, construction workers, soldiers and manufacturing workers who work around process-generated heat.
The scary part is you might not even be aware you are heading for heat stroke
.. Until it’s too late. When it’s too late, you are already confused and delirious because you have no doubt suffered nerve damage. It is essential to become aware of what heat stroke symptoms are and to heed the warning signs. A quick diagnosis is needed to avoid the person suffering from organ failure or cognitive impairment and even death. You need to always take preventative measures to keep your body cool and that means staying hydrated. It is vital to also avoid any actions that increase your risk of developing heat stroke or heat-related illnesses like exercising in the hot, direct sun.
You have temperature receptors in your skin
- When the temperature outside the body starts getting too high, the temperature receptors in your skin will send messages to the hypothalamus. This is your processing center in the brain.
- When your body becomes overheated, it will release the heat by activating the muscles in your skin and you will sweat. The blood vessels also start swelling or dilating, and your skin will often look red. Warm blood flows to the surface of your skin so that heat is lost through the skin and out into the air.
- The muscles in your skin will work to increase heat loss and your skin glands will secrete the sweat onto the surface of your skin to increase the heat loss by way of evaporation.
- The body keeps on sweating and releasing the internal heat until the body temperature goes back to normal. But when you sweat a whole lot in the body’s effort to cool down, you can become dehydrated because of the loss of so much fluid. When your body runs out of fluids for sweating and you haven’t drunk enough water, your body temperature just continues to rise and that’s when you might notice the symptoms of heat stroke.
- When your temperature keeps on rising and there are no more fluids left to regulate the body, a serious problem starts to occur.
What are the symptoms that you are getting heat stroke?
Before the heat stroke symptoms start showing or developing, you will start experiencing a few warning signs. Heat-related illnesses usually occur in four stages. There is fainting, muscle cramping, then heat exhaustion occurs, followed by heat stroke. Let’s see what they entail:
- Fainting from heat: This can also be called heat syncope and it occurs when the body tries to cool itself down. This then causes the blood vessels to dilate so much, reducing the blood flow to the brain. You will usually notice this when a person works outside in hot temperatures. Besides fainting, or even before fainting, the person will often feel dizzy and kind of restless and nauseous.
- Heat cramps occur: Another word is muscle cramping, and this is one of the first signs of heat-related illnesses. You might even think you have just pulled a muscle, even though you weren’t doing anything too strenuous. Cramping and muscle aches are actually huge warning signs that you are dehydrated – this is the time to get out the sun to a cool place and also to drink some water before the symptoms deteriorate.
- Heat exhaustion: This occurs when the heat starts making you feel nauseous and even uncomfortable. You might be sweating a lot, you feel weak, and you have a nasty headache. You could even be cold, clammy and pale; maybe vomiting as well, and finally fainting. When all these kinds of symptoms are left untreated, this heat exhaustion can follow on to full-on heat stroke.
- Heat stroke: This is the most serious of all heat-related illnesses. This is a medical emergency in fact, because of the resulting circumstances. Heat stroke can lead to serious brain damage; it can lead to organ failure and frighteningly, even death. What are the symptoms that someone is suffering from heat stroke?
- Their body temperature rises above 103° Fahrenheit.
- Their pulse is rapid and strong.
- They are breathing shallowly.
- The skin is red, hot, dry, and maybe even moist.
- They have a severe headache
- They are ‘exhausted’.
- They are not sweating even though it is so hot.
- They are nauseous and vomiting.
- They have muscle weakness as well as cramps.
- Their urine is dark-colored.
- They are delirious, confused and suffer from seizures.
- They can be unconscious.
Can you see how serious heat stroke can be? And a person in this state can have organ failure and die. Research shows that around 20% of people who suffer from heat stroke can have long-term, irreversible brain damage. That is why some of the common symptoms are confusion and delirium. The brain nerve cells are particularly vulnerable when the body overheats because when this happens, it causes the blood vessels to dilate and the blood flow to increase – this can also strain the heart.
Get to a doctor straight away – don’t delay
If you believe anybody is experiencing a heat stroke, you need to seek help immediately. The best thing to do is to call 911 or the local emergency services. In the meantime, you can take immediate action to start cooling down the overheated person while you wait for the emergency treatment services to get there.
- Get the person into some shade or indoors a.s.a.p.
- Remove any excess clothing.
- Cool the person with whatever means you see available – get them into a cool tub of water or spray them down with cool water, even if it is from a garden hose. You can also sponge them down with cool water, using a fan on them as well. You can also use ice packs or towels wrung out from the water – put these all over the person; their head, neck, groin, and armpits – just get them to cool down.
What are the conventional treatments for heat stroke
- When cooling down of the person is quickly initiated and their body temperature and the brain function return to normal within an hour or so of the onset of the heat stroke symptoms, then it is highly likely that the patient will fully recover.
- Medical professionals will try to diagnose the patient by taking a rectal temperature so that they can assess the patient’s core temperature. The professional will then be able to determine whether or not the patient is having a heat stroke or not. It might be that the patient is suffering from some other heat-related illness – it could be that it has not yet progressed to heat stroke, at least.
- Next, the patient will be given intravenous (IV) hydration and transported to a hospital if he hasn’t been rushed there already. The intravenous hydration will continue for about 24-72 hours. When the case of heat stroke is severe, the medical professional will administer IV magnesium sulfate; this will relieve any further muscle cramping.
Fortunately, there are natural ways also to treat and prevent heat stroke
Drink enough water
Drink enough water In order to avoid heat stroke you need to drink even more water than you usually do because if you are sweating more, you are losing a lot of fluids through the sweating. Drink at least two to four cups of water each hour you are outside or exercising. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty and then only start drinking water. By then you have already become dehydrated, putting yourself at risk for heat stroke. Remember to check up on any children and other people who are with you in hot temperatures to ensure they are taking sufficient water as well. People who are more risk than others are people over 65, those with chronic medical conditions, little children and babies, and those without air conditioning in their homes. Maybe you can’t face drinking so much water but there are other beverages to drink that will also keep you hydrated – like smoothies or veggie juices. Sparkling water is great because it comes in certain flavors. Something like Kombucha will not only hydrate but supply probiotics as well.
Never forget your pets as well! Animals such as cats and dogs, for example, can also suffer from heat stroke. They will experience symptoms such as lethargy and excessive panting, and even unresponsiveness. You need to contact your vet immediately so your pet can be treated – the treatment and the outcome are similar to that of humans.
- Eat foods which hydrate
Fruits and vegetables are a good idea to eat because they offer hydration in order to avoid heat stroke. It’s because they have high water content and contain electrolytes. Good hydrating foods to beat heat stroke are:
- Coconut water
- Bell peppers
- Iceberg lettuce
Full of electrolytes, they also contain the all-important magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Electrolytes are vital because they help you to maintain your fluid balance in your body; they keep your blood pressure levels stable too.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks
You need to prevent dehydration in hot temperatures, so that will means avoiding beverages such as alcohol; caffeine and sugary drinks. These all increase your urination and electrolyte loss. Consuming too much sugar can also lead to inflammation, making heat stroke symptoms worse. There are sports drinks which are marketed to keep you hydrated while you are involved in competitive sports and games, etc. but a lot of these products contain heaps of sugar and synthetic flavorings. Go for natural electrolytes instead.
- Avoid direct sunlight
Try and limit your time outdoors on really hot days, particularly in the midday sun when the sun is at its hottest. You always need to try and get to some shade - if you are in an open space, bring an umbrella for protection. For those athletes who train outdoors, try and schedule your training later on in the day when the temperature is cooler.
- Preferably stay in an air-conditioned building
It is imperative to keep body temperature down when in extreme heat. A fan won’t help. You will need an air-conditioned home or building for as long as possible. If you don’t have air-conditioning at home, try and find an air conditioned shelter somewhere in your community where you can get the relief you need for a few hours.
These can be shopping malls, theaters, libraries, restaurants, and community centers. Fans and open windows might offer a bit of help but be careful they are not simply just circulating the hot air. To bring your temperature down, get under a cold shower or a bath or apply cool compresses to your head or at the back of your neck, wear very lightweight clothing and avoid strenuous activities
- Have you checked your medication?
There are some medications which can even increase your risk of heat stroke. This is because they affect how your body responds to the heat. Sometimes they interfere with your salt and water balance as well. Medicines like antibiotics, antihistamines, antidepressants, medicines for blood pressure, cholesterol, laxatives, etc. – they all play a role. If you are taking any of these types of medications, talk to your doctor about heat-related illnesses. Take special care to stay hydrated and cool on hot days when you are on certain medications.
- Never leave a pet or a person in a parked car
This is a common cause of heat-related deaths in people and animals. When you park in the sun, the temperature in a car can rise as much as 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. When your car is parked, keep it locked so that little children and pets can’t get inside.
Is it heat exhaustion or a heat stroke?
- Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are both caused by exercising in hot, humid weather wherein the body becomes dehydrated. But they are slightly different:
- Heatstroke usually develops after heat exhaustion, especially if the condition is not treated. Usually, the temperature of the body rises and the cooling systems no longer works. This is potentially a life-threating condition and is characterized by vomiting, nausea, dizziness, headache, rapid heartbeat, fatigue, dry, and hot skin and shortness of breath with decreased urination.
- Heat exhaustion is accompanied usually by a fever that does into usually go higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually the person experiences excessive thirst, they could faint, with nausea and their skin is normally cool and clammy. They also suffer from muscle aches and weakness with heavy sweating, dizziness and a slow heartbeat.
The prognosis for heat stroke
If the person gets effective, quick treatment, he can recover with a few problems and maybe none at all. Some people will become more sensitive to hot weather. The patient will usually spend about 2 days in a hospital and longer if there has been organ damage. But complete recovery from heat stroke and the effects it can have on the internal organs can take as much as 2 months to a year to recover from. If complications increase, the prognosis declines, rapidly, because the brain and other organs like the liver, lungs and the kidneys can have permanent damage. This can cause long term effects on the health of the patient.
If you are with someone who is showing signs of heat stroke, you need to call 911 immediately. Try and move the person to a cool place and try and cool them down by applying some cool pressure on their forehead, even pouring cool water over their body. Then wait for the professionals to take over. Remember, heat stroke is a serious medical emergency and immediate treatment is imperative.
Because when the heat is on, you have to act real cool