Health & Wellness / Home & Family

Playing It Safe in the Sun – Avoiding Heat Stroke

heat stroke

Heat stroke is a serious heat-related illness that happens when the body can no longer control its temperature. Per the CDC, the body’s temperature rises rapidly, and sweating mechanisms fail. Thus, the body is unable to cool down. During heat stroke, body temperature can rise to 106 degrees F or higher. It can happen suddenly, within 10 to 15 minutes, and can lead to permanent disability or death. If you suspect someone is experiencing heat stroke, call 911 for emergency medical care.

People need to use caution in the sun as too much heat can be harmful and even stress the heart. Symptoms of heat stroke may include some of the following: confusion or altered mental status, slurred speech, loss of consciousness, hot and dry skin or profuse sweating, seizures, high body temperature and more. Note that heat stroke can be fatal if treatment is delayed. Though heat stroke can happen to anyone, most susceptible are people who work in hot environments, people with high blood pressure, and the elderly. If someone is experiencing symptoms from heat exposure, call 911. While waiting for assistance, there are some first aid tips that may help. Move the person to a shaded area or into air conditioning where excess clothing may be removed. The CDC recommends, if possible, placing cold, wet cloths or ice on the body, especially on the head, neck, armpits, and groin, or soaking clothing with cool water.

Heat exhaustion is a precursor to heat stroke, so it should be taken seriously as well. It is ultimately a warning that the body cannot keep itself cool. Signs of heat exhaustion include feeling thirsty, dizzy, weak, uncoordinated, or nauseated. A person may also sweat. A person experiencing heat exhaustion may feel cool and clammy to the touch and their pulse may be rapid. Any of these signs indicate that it is time to get out of the heat, head to a cool place, and stay hydrated with fluids. If one does not feel better quickly by doing so, or is worsening, seek immediate medical attention. Since heat exhaustion can progress into heat stroke, it’s important to prevent it. Some ways include staying up to date on heat advisories and warnings, limiting time outdoors and under the sun, staying in air conditioning, drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding alcohol or caffeinated beverages, dressing for the weather, and paying attention to how you feel. Also avoid the heat if you are taking certain medications. Heat-related issues can happen indoors, too, so it’s important to make sure that air conditioning units are in good working order. Note that while fans circulate air, they are not the best defense against heat. Air conditioning is much more efficient.

We can all do our part to prevent heat-related illness by caring for ourselves and checking in on people, especially our elderly friends, family, and neighbors. Consider offering transportation and help with tasks, such as carrying in groceries, to prevent older adults from overexertion in the heat. If someone lacks the means to stay adequately cool during hot periods, for example if they are low-income and cannot afford their electric utilities, encourage them to contact their utility company to gain access to special programs. Or they may contact the American Red Cross where they can find comfortable air-conditioned shelters. Many municipalities also run assistance programs to help folks in need, so that is another important avenue to explore. Area senior organizations may also provide guidance. And, if it’s just temporary relief that someone needs, invite them over to your air-conditioned home or encourage them to visit someplace cool, such as an air-conditioned library, museum, restaurant, bookstore, coffee shop, movie theatre, or shopping mall, to briefly escape the heat.

This article is purely informational and is not intended as medical advice.

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