Heatstroke and heat-related illnesses are preventable, but very dangerous if not treated quickly. Heatstroke is a condition caused by over-heating of the body, often marked by high fever and eventually losing consciousness. The body’s natural cooling mechanisms are overcome with prolonged exposure to heat, and slowly body functions begin to shut down. If untreated, major organs could potentially start to shut down as well.
The internal body temperature of someone affected by heatstroke is about 104 F or above for adults, and around 105 F or above for children. When the body’s internal temperature gets this high, the ability for the brain to control the body’s core temperature stops working correctly. This results in decreased mobility and eventually could lead to death.
The symptoms of heatstroke include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Racing heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- High body temperature
- Flushed skin
- Confusion, irritability, slurred speech
- Seizures and coma can also result from heatstroke
If any of these symptoms arise when in hot weather for prolonged periods of time, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department. In the meantime, seek shade/shelter immediately, remove any excess clothing, and cool down in any way available (cold water, compress, ice packs, etc.). Do these same steps for others around you, as they may be too weak to help themselves.
Taking preventative measures to avoid heatstroke is extremely important. The ways to prevent heatstroke are to:
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing.
- Wear sunscreen and/or sun-blocking clothing.
- Never sit inside a turned-off car. Temperatures in a car can rise up to 130 F on an 80 F day.
- Stay hydrated and always have water on you.
- Keep ice packs and water in a cooler and carry it with you to cool down when you get too hot.
Remember – nobody is immune to heatstroke. Infants aren’t able to communicate when they’re too hot, so always check their temperatures and breathing in outside in periods of hot weather. Factors that make one more susceptible to heatstroke include:
- Age. Your body’s ability to cope with higher heat decreases as you get older.
- Sudden exposure to hot weather
- Certain health conditions, such as heart or lung disease can increase your chances. Also, being obese, sedentary or having previous history of heatstroke.
- Some medications affect your body's ability to stay hydrated and respond to heat, such as medications that narrow your blood vessels, regulate your blood pressure, or any that rid your body of sodium and water (diuretics)
- Lack of cold air/air conditioning
It’s important to know your own risk factors and be prepared during periods of hot weather. Limit outside activities as much as possible and make sure you and your family stay hydrated and cool for a safe and happy summer.