Living Well

How to recognize and treat heatstroke

There is a  risk of extended outdoor exposure that could lead to potentially serious problems: heatstroke. Learn more in the post.

protect yourself from heatstrokeWhile most families worry about preventing sunburn during their spring and summer travels, there is another risk of extended outdoor exposure that could lead to potentially serious problems: heatstroke.

Heat emergencies like heatstroke can arise quickly after an individual is exposed to excessive heat and humidity for an extended period of time. While it mostly affects children, older adults and obese individuals, it can afflict perfectly healthy men and women as well if heatstroke warning signs are ignored.

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Here is how you can spot heatstroke and treat it effectively:

Heatstroke symptoms

Heat stroke is the most advanced heat emergency and is the last progression from milder heat-related illnesses like heat cramps, fainting, and heat exhaustion, but unfortunately, it can also strike when none of these earlier symptoms are present. Heatstroke, which can worsen when coupled with dehydration, is essentially the body losing its ability to naturally regulate its temperature through normal immune system functions. By its medical definition, heatstroke occurs when a person's body temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which will continue to rise if he/she remains in the same hot environment. Heatstroke will feature the following symptoms:

  • Hot skin: Skin will feel hot and dry to the touch during heatstroke, but it may also feel moist if brought on by intensive exercise. Skin may also become flushed and extremely red as the condition progresses.
  • Poor mental coordination: Heatstroke can bring about an altered mental state, so this can be an early warning sign that something is amiss. Delirium, slurred speech, confusion, agitation and even seizures and coma can arise from the condition.
  • Nausea: An unfortunate side effect of heat stroke is an upset stomach, and many heatstroke sufferers report nausea and vomiting in advanced cases.
  • Headache: A sudden migraine or a headache that becomes steadily worse over time is a key indicator of an uncontrollable body temperature.
  • Rapid breathing/heart rate: In the midst of heatstroke, the heart will work on overdrive in an effort to cool down the body, which will result in an accelerated heart rate. Additionally, breathing may become rapid and shallow as the body compensates to try and bring in enough oxygen to regulate body temperature.

Treatment for heatstroke

If you or a loved one is experiencing the symptoms of heatstroke, time is a pivotal factor and medical help should be sought out immediately. In the meantime, the patient should be moved indoors to a cool environment or into the shady area where he/she will remove any unnecessary clothing. If it's possible, immerse the individual in a bath of cold water to quickly lower body temperature, or mist cold water onto the skin that will evaporate and cool the skin. Although heatstroke can be a frightening experience, with timely medical attention patients will usually make a full recovery.

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