by Kimberly Allen R. N.
Heat Stroke, also called sun stroke, is a form of hyperthermia. Hyperthermia occurs when the body temperature is 104F or above.
Heat Stroke happens when the bodies cooling mechanism stops functioning. The ability of the body to dissipate the heat becomes impaired causing the body temperature to rise. This usually occurs in extreme heat and high humidity, especially when doing vigorous work or exercise in the sun. Another contributing factor is dehydration. When dehydrated the body is unable to perspire sufficiently to dissipate the heat fast enough causing the body temperature to increase.
Some people experience heat exhaustion which then develops into heat stroke. However, heat stroke can occur very suddenly and without warning. The symptoms of heat stroke can vary from person to person. The most common symptoms of heat stroke are:
1. High body temperature 104F and above
2. The absence of perspiration with hot red or flushed dry skin
3. Rapid pulse rate
4. Difficulty breathing
5. Strange behavior including confusion, hallucinations, disorientation, and irritability
6. Seizure and or coma
Heat Stroke is a Medical Emergency. If not treated properly and quickly it is often fatal. The first and most important treatment is to cool the heat stroke victim down and call 911 immediately. Move the victim out of the sun to a shady area and remove their clothing. Then pour or spray cool water, a garden hose works well, over the victim. It also helps to fan the victim to help promote sweating and evaporation. If available placing ice packs under the arm pits and around the groin also help. If the victim is conscious and able to drink liquids give them cool water or other cool beverages that do not have alcohol or caffeine as these can increase dehydration. It’s important to continue cooling the victim until the body temperature has dropped to at least 101-102F.
According to the CDC, approximately 700 people die from heat related illness every year. The elderly have the greatest risk of heat stroke, however, infants and young children are also at risk. Especially when left unattended in a locked vehicle. The temperature in a locked vehicle can rise to dangerous levels very quickly even when the weather is moderate. There have also been rare cases of infants suffering fatal heat stroke from being overly bundled in their cribs. It is vitally important for parents to understand that in addition to the obvious safety risks there are medical dangers when leaving children (or pets) unattended in vehicles.
Athletes that work out and train during hot conditions are also at risk for heat stroke. The most common in the US are high school football players practicing during the month of August. People who have physically demanding jobs outside are also at risk for heat stroke.
The best way to prevent heat stroke is to stay hydrated in hot weather. Drink plenty of liquids especially water and sports drinks which help replace electrolytes lost in perspiration. Avoid liquids containing alcohol or caffeine including soft drinks and tea as these can increase the potential for dehydration. It’s also important to avoid vigorous physical activity during hot humid weather. When the weather is very hot and humid be sure to take frequent breaks in a shady area if possible to hydrate yourself.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.