HEATSTROKE AND HOW TO PREVENT IT
Heatstroke strikes in spring too! Do not wait till it's high summer to take precautions!
If you are an outdoorsy person, chances are, you have lots of fun activities planned up. You have been indoors all winter, and you want to scratch that itch to go hiking, biking or skydiving. The sad truth, though, is that you will be out in the hot weather and can be at risk of heatstroke. Heat exhaustion has been associated with the high temperatures of mid-summer. However, you can also get sick from the spring heat.
Read on about heatstroke and its prevention.
WHAT IS HEATSTROKE?
When your body overheats to about 104 F or 40 C because you have been exposed to or exerted yourself physically in high temperatures, this condition is called heatstroke. It is a form of heat-related illness called hyperthermia. Heat stroke can be fatal since it damages body organs like the heart, kidneys and brain.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HEATSTROKE?
A person suffering from heatstroke usually shows one or more of these signs:
- High body temperature: This is the main sign of heatstroke. People suffering from it usually have an elevated body temperature (taken with a rectal thermometer) of 104 F (40 C) or higher.
- Nausea and vomiting: People with this condition usually feel sick.
- Rapid breathing: Breathing is quicker and shallow.
- Racing heart rate: The pulse is higher because heatstroke puts a strain on the heart to keep the body cool.
- Flushed skin: The skin appears red when the body's temperature increases.
- Changes in sweating: If the heatstroke is caused by hot weather, a person may not sweat at all, but if it's caused by physical exertion, a person usually sweats a lot.
- Changes in mental state or behaviour: A person may feel confusion or delirium, be irritable or agitated, have seizures or even fall into a coma.
- Headache: A heat-induced headache feels like a dull, thudding ache around the temples or in the back of the head.
WHAT CAUSES HEATSTROKE?
Essentially, there are two causes of heatstroke. First, prolonged exposure to a hot environment and second, strenuous activity.
Exposure to hot, humid weather or high temperatures raises the core body temperature and causes non-exertional or classic heatstroke. This type of heatstroke is common among elderly people and those with chronic illnesses.
Intense physical activity like exercising or working in hot weather increases the core body temperature and can cause exertional heatstroke. This happens to people who are not used to high temperatures.
In both cases, a person's heatstroke can be triggered by:
- Wearing excess clothing which does not allow sweat to evaporate from the body, so the body can cool off.
- Drinking alcohol which makes it difficult for the body to regulate its temperature.
- Dehydration. When you do not drink enough water to replenish what your body has lost through sweating.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS OF HEATSTROKE?
A person is more at risk of heatstroke due to these factors:
- Medications: Some medications cause dehydration and make a person more prone to getting heatstroke. That's because when you are dehydrated you sweat less and are unable to maintain a normal body temperature. People living in hot environments must therefore be extra cautious if they are on certain medications. Diuretics, vasoconstrictors, beta-blockers and antidepressants (antipsychotics) are the culprits.
- Underlying health conditions: Chronic diseases like heart and lung disease, obesity, living a sedentary lifestyle and having a history of heatstroke makes a person more susceptible to this condition.
- Age: A person's ability to cope with heat stress depends on how strong their central nervous system is. Older people usually have deteriorating central nervous systems, while that of very young people is not fully developed. And so these two risk groups are unable to cope with body temperature changes.
- Hot climates: People who live in places with hot, humid weathers must be careful not to physically exert themselves or be out in the hot weather for too long. Military personnel and sports persons (footballers and athletes) are the ones at risk the most. Travellers must also take precautions when they travel to destinations with hotter climates. They must wait to acclimate before getting out in the heat and also limit outdoor activities to reduce their risk.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT HEATSTROKE?
Heatstroke indeed can be fatal, but it can be easily prevented. Here are ten (10) heatstroke prevention tips:
- Stay hydrated. Taking lots of fluids makes your body sweat to keep your body temperature normal. Drink water and other hydrating drinks like lemon water, coconut water or fruit-infused water throughout the day.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes or less clothing. This will make sweat evaporate quickly from your body to keep you cool.
- Prevent sunburn to keep your body cool. Wear wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 anytime you step out.
- Avoid exerting yourself in hot weather. Schedule your physical and outdoor activities for the coolest part of the day (during the morning and evening). If you must work during the hottest part of the day, take short breaks and drink lots of fluids.
- Avoid staying out for too long when the weather is hot.
- Be extra cautious when you on certain medications like diuretics and antidepressants. Check yourself often for heat-related symptoms and drink lots of fluids to keep you hydrated.
- Get used to the weather, especially when you travel to places with hot climates, before engaging in outdoor activities.
- Have air-conditioning in your house and car to keep the heat down.
- Don't leave anyone in a parked car, especially children. The temperature inside your car can rise to 20 F (6.7 C) in just ten minutes. And keep your car locked so children cannot get in.
Heatstroke can lead to many complications. It can cause vital organs like the brain and kidneys to swell, resulting in permanent damage. When it is not treated well and immediately, heatstroke can lead to death. Seek immediate medical help when you or anyone shows symptoms of heatstroke. You can also administer some first aid while waiting for emergency treatment. Get the sick person to a cool place, take off some of their clothing and put some ice packs or wet towels on their heads, neck, armpits and groin.
Disclaimer: The information shared by this post is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to be professional medical advice nor a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your physician concerning anything you have read here.
By Nana Ama Afoa Osae I Writer I GreatWonderful Team
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