Personal Health

Turning Up the Heat: How to Recognize the Signs of Heat Stroke

Every season has its pleasures and dangers. Winter brings with it snowball fights and cold-related injuries. Summertime fun can be similarly overshadowed by the possibility of overheating. Most of the time, hyperthermia - getting too hot than is healthy - can be cured by getting out of the sun, resting and drinking fluid. However, there is one extremely dangerous case of overheating that calls for immediate action: heat stroke. You should know the signs of heat stroke and what actions to take for quick treatment if you see someone experiencing them.

Heat Strokes Compared to Other Heat Ailments

Mild forms of heat injury are relatively simple to treat: They all respond well to fluids, shade, and rest. Even a condition on the more serious end of the spectrum such as heat exhaustion, where someone is sweating and feels dizzy or vomits, is best served by following the same line of treatment.

Heat stroke looks a bit like heat exhaustion, but there's an important difference: With heat stroke, the victim will be flushed, warm to the touch, and often dry. Victims of heat stroke may even have stopped sweating, thereby trapping heat inside the body and causing the body temperature to continue rising.

Even if the person is still sweating, heat stroke may have begun if the person passes out, has a seizure, or exhibits generally strange behavior. If the person in question is breathing rapidly, complaining of a fast heartbeat, or staggering, he or she is at risk for serious, long-term damage. If you see someone who was recently in a hot environment, indoors or out, and is now behaving oddly, isn't sweating, or is showing any of these signs of heat stroke, call 911 right away.

Cooling Down

Because reducing body temperature is critical to saving the life of someone suffering from heat stroke, the 911 dispatcher may ask you to start cooling the person down. This can be done in a number of easy ways. First, move the victim to a cool, shaded place. If possible, have them lie down in front of a fan. If the person is no longer sweating, you may be asked to spray them with room-temperature water so that the fan will be able to cool them more effectively.

One of the goals in heat stroke treatment is to get the affected person's temperature down to less than 104 degrees in under 30 minutes, so rescue personnel will remove layers of clothing, cover the person with a wet sheet, and crank up the air conditioning. They will also place ice packs in the areas of the body that produce the most heat: under the armpits, at the front of the neck, and over the groin. People still able to talk will be given fluids with electrolytes to drink. If possible, you can also take some of these actions while you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

Internal and external hydration, air movement, lying still in the shade, and cold packs save thousands of lives every year — and not just in athletes and younger people exercising in the sun. Heat emergencies like these occur in people of all ages who are exercising, and even those who aren't. Heat stroke, even while at rest indoors, is common for the elderly in the summer, especially for those who don't sweat or circulate blood as well. Injury, illness, and obesity also cause the body to work harder to shed heat, making those affected more prone to overheating conditions.

Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency that must be treated quickly. Call 911 and start the process of cooling the person immediately. Don't be afraid to take action: If you see someone who appears to be struggling, offer them water and sit with them in the shade. Precaution is the best policy.

Posted in Personal Health

Dr. Sheyna Gifford has been involved in research since 1997, in health care since 2003, in biotechnology since 2005, and in professional science and health communications since 2013. She holds bachelors degrees in neuroscience and English, masters degree in biotechnology and science journalism, and a doctorate in medicine. Sheyna is working on an MBA in healthcare management, and aiming for a career in health policy and health care administration, where excellent communication can lead to better patient outcomes, reduced cost, and better doctor and patient satisfaction.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.