As you head into the hottest months of the year, be sure to stay cool. Overheating can lead to heat stroke, which is a medical emergency. Both children and adults are at risk when exposed to heat without proper hydration. Humidity only makes the problem worse.
How heat stroke develops
Heat stroke develops when the body is unable to maintain a normal internal temperature. On a hot day, you can overheat from vigorous physical activity such as running. Or you may be unable to cool down when exposed to intense temperatures – for example, from sitting in a hot car with the windows rolled up and no air conditioning.
Typically, the body cools itself off by sweating. However, sweating on a hot day can be hindered by the following:
- Dehydration, which happens when we don’t drink enough water to replace body fluids, including the fluid lost through perspiration.
- Humidity, or the amount of moisture in the air. Humid weather makes cooling off difficult because sweat can’t evaporate from the skin. This overloads the body’s ability to regulate its core temperature.
During a heat stroke, the body’s internal temperature increases rapidly, putting the central nervous system and organs in danger.
Signs of heat stroke
Know the signs of heat stroke so you can get help as soon as possible:
- Fever of 104°F or higher
- Severe headache
- Nausea or vomiting
- Not sweating when you should be
- Flushed, dry skin
- Visual disturbances
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid pulse
Treatment for heat stroke
If you suspect you or someone you are with is experiencing a heat stroke, call 911 immediately. If untreated, the condition can cause damage to the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles.
While waiting for help to arrive, you should:
- Move the person to the shade or inside an air-conditioned area, if possible.
- Apply cool cloths to the body and remove excess clothing.
- If they are confused or unconscious, do not try to get them to drink.
A medical professional should administer additional cooling treatments.
The following measures can help prevent heat stroke:
- Schedule frequent water and rest breaks, even if you don’t feel tired or thirsty. Sports drinks can help replace electrolytes lost through sweat during vigorous exercise. If your urine is dark yellow, you’re not drinking enough.
- Avoid drinks containing caffeine or alcohol, which are dehydrating.
- Wear a hat and lightweight, loose, light-colored clothes that reflect the sun.
- Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher – a sunburn reduces your body’s ability to cool itself.
- Never leave a child in a locked vehicle, even for short periods of time, because enclosed spaces can heat up rapidly.
- Be aware of the early symptoms of the body overheating, which include muscle cramps, heavy sweating, fatigue and thirst. Rehydrate, rest and cool off so your temperature doesn’t continue to rise.
- Call your healthcare provider or visit urgent care if you become concerned about your symptoms.
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