It’s summer and like most of my patients, you probably like to get out and enjoy all the fun activities that summer has to offer – swimming, boating, bicycle riding, playing baseball, tennis, attending baseball games, a day at the beach, sailing. You name it; summer has a lot of outdoor fun in the sun to offer. However, all that under-the-summer-sun activity can also lead to one of summer’s complications, heat stroke. Let me share with you what I tell my patients about how to prevent and treat heat stroke.
What Is Heat Stroke?
If you’ve never had a case of heat exhaustion/heat stroke, you’ll certainly know it if it starts to hit you. You’re going along having fun in your outdoor activity, or even just working around your house outside, and all of a sudden you start to feel exhausted, as if your battery is wearing down fast. You might feel dizzy, experience blurry vision or even see colored spots, feel unsteady on your feet, have muscle cramps, and may even have chills. These are signs to get out of the sun, into the shade, and get some fluids into you fast!
Heat stroke is a dangerous overheating of your internal body temperature to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, or higher. Heat stroke occurs usually after your body has already given you two warning sets of symptoms:
1. Heat exhaustion. The symptoms described above. Also, see those listed below.
2. Heat cramps. These occur from sweating and inadequate replacement of fluids while you’re out playing or working in the sun. Through sweating, your body loses valuable mineral salts like potassium and sodium that help your muscles “fire” and relax normally.
Some other symptoms of impending heat stroke include:
- Elevated temperature – a reading of 104 or higher.
- Lack of sweating – you’ve sweated out most of your body fluids already and your body is trying to conserve its fluid reserves now. Your skin will feel dry and hot to the touch.
- Reddened, feverish looking skin – from your body overheating.
- Fast, shallow breathing – you may become a little short of breath also.
- Fast heart beat – your heart rate increases from the strain on your body.
- Bad headache – from dehydration.
- Other complications – seizure, loss of consciousness, inability to speak or understand others.
How To Prevent Heat Stroke
Preventing heat stroke is always preferable to trying to treat it yourself which can be dangerous. As I stated above, heat stroke is preceded by two sets of warning symptoms, those of heat exhaustion and those of muscle cramps. Either, and certainly both, of these are telling you that you need to quickly replace body fluids and salt, cool your body temperature back down, and get out of the sun to rest. Here are some things to remember to prevent heat exhaustion, heat cramps and ultimately heat stroke.
- Adequate hydration: First and foremost, when you are engaging in outdoor activities in the hot summer sun, you need to always have a water bottle with you. If you are sweating a lot, be sure to keep your water bottle refilled throughout your time outdoors. Electrolyte/mineral replacement drinks are okay too, in between drinking plain water.
- Dress lightly: Wear light colored sun-refractive colors like white and light pastels. Cool fabrics like cotton that let air pass through the weave to your skin can help you stay cool.
- Keep cool/rest: It’s important to take a sun and heat break and to cool you down. Get into the shade and put a cool, wet cloth on your forehead, back of neck, under your arms. These help cool you down. Put up a shade tent or lean to, go indoors in air conditioning, or even a basement, if there is no AC, a car with air conditioning, somewhere you can get out of the sun and heat for a while and cool down.
- Eat regularly: Make sure you eat adequately to keep salt and potassium levels normal. Eat lighter meals like fresh fruits that are high in minerals. Cooled down summer soups are also good to keep salt and potassium levels normal.
- Watch alcohol: Many people drink a lot of beer while engaging in outdoor summer activities. Alcohol can dehydrate you quickly. If you drink alcohol during your activities, pace yourself, and drink at least 1 cup of water for every 8 ounces of alcohol.
What To Do If Heat Stroke Occurs
If you, or someone you’re with, miss or ignore all the warning symptoms and signs of heat exhaustion and heat cramps, and are progressing to heat stroke, if possible call 9-1-1 and/or get the person to an emergency room or urgent care center quickly. If you are out in a remote area, here are a few things you can do while waiting for 9-1-1 or while en route to medical treatment:
- Have the person lie down in the shade slightly on one side. Loosen any tight clothing. Put cool compresses on their forehead, back of neck, in armpits.
- Fan the person lightly to help cool their body temperature.
- If they are conscious and able to sip water, help them do so.
Heat stroke is nothing to take chances with or second guess. Do everything possible to prevent heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and subsequent heat stroke by following the above recommendations so that you can truly enjoy all summer has to offer.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Heat Stroke: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heat-stroke/DS01025/DSECTION=lifestyle-and-home-remedies
Photo Credit: gracenglamour.com