Summer in the DMV can be downright sweltering. How can we stay active and have fun while protecting ourselves from heat injury? One essential step is understanding the signs and prevention strategies for heat stroke.
What Is Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke is the most severe heat-related injury. Unlike with heat cramps or exhaustion, your body can no longer cool itself. Sweating shuts down, and your body temperature can rise to 104 degrees or higher. If untreated, heat stroke can cause damage to your brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles and even lead to death.
- Classic heat stroke is brought on by spending too much time in excessive heat. We usually see this in seniors, young children, or people with chronic illnesses.
- Exertional heat stroke is caused by strenuous physical activity in hot weather and impacts people of all ages.
What Are The Signs of Heat Stroke?
When your body stops sweating, it loses the ability to cool itself. It’s one of the leading warning signs of heat stroke. Symptoms include:
- Body temperature rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
- The skin feels hot and dry to the touch.
- The skin may become red and flushed.
- Behavior changes: people with heat stroke may experience confusion, delirium or agitation.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Rapid breathing and raised heart rate.
- Throbbing headache.
- In extreme cases, seizures and coma are possible.
What Causes Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke happens when you spend too much time in the heat–or over-exert yourself under hot conditions. Risk factors include:
- Not drinking enough water.
- Drinking alcohol in hot conditions.
- Not having air conditioning in very hot weather.
- Certain medications, including some blood pressure medications, blood thinners, antidepressants, and stimulants, including ADHD medications, can make patients more sensitive to the heat.
- Chronic illness.
- Heat stroke is most common in young children and seniors, but people of any age can experience it, especially during exercise.
How Can I Prevent Heat Stroke?
Hydration is the #1 prevention strategy for avoiding heat stroke. Drinking plenty of fluids helps your body sweat and regulate temperature. Other prevention tips include:
- Wear light, loose-fitting clothing when in the heat for extended periods.
- Wear a hat or use an umbrella to block the sun’s rays.
- Don’t leave children or seniors in parked cars.
- Wear sunscreen.
- In summer, save outdoor exercise for mornings or evenings when it’s cooler and rest in the middle of the day.
- Rest regularly and take water breaks while exercising.
- Take extra precautions if you are over 65, have a chronic illness or take certain medications.
- Watch for heat advisories on local weather forecasts and adjust your activities accordingly.
What Should I Do If Someone Experiences Heat Stroke?
If you see someone with signs of heat stroke, get emergency help immediately.
- Call 911.
- Get the person indoors or into the shade.
- Remove excess clothing.
- Use cold water, ice packs, or wet towels to reduce body temperature.
- If the patient is alert, offer cool liquids to drink.
How Can My Primary Care Practice Help Me Stay Healthy This Summer?
At Comprehensive Primary Care, we encourage our patients to stay active and enjoy summer. But be smart when planning summer outings and activities and know the signs of heat stroke. Talk with your primary provider about staying safe. Discuss your medications and diagnoses and how heat might affect you. Then work together to develop strategies for a happy and healthy summer.