What You Need to Know About Heat Stroke

Three people I know got sick over the weekend because of the heat. One had heat stroke and spent a night in the hospital and the other two probably had heat exhaustion. Both happen because the body can’t cool itself and both are dangerous heat illnesses, especially heat stroke. Heat rash and sunburn are also heat illnesses, although usually more annoying than dangerous.

Heat stroke

Here’s a rundown of heat illnesses, their symptoms and what to do, courtesy of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC):

HEAT STROKE

  • hot, dry, red skin (no sweating)
  • rapid pulse
  • high body temperature (≥ 105 F)
  • headache
  • loss of alertness
  • confusion
  • rapid and shallow breathing
  • unconsciousness or coma

What to do: Call 911 immediately. Cool the person rapidly by moving them to a shady or cooler area; applying cool water or ice to the head, neck, armpits and groin area; fanning; and loosening their clothing

HEAT EXHAUSTION

  • heavy sweating
  • fainting
  • vomiting
  • cold, pale and clammy skin
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • nausea
  • weakness

What to do: Move the person to a cool place, have them drink fluids and rest, loosen their clothes, and cool them off with water or wet cloths. Heat exhaustion can quickly lead to heat stroke. If symptoms worsen or do not improve, get medical help.

HEAT CRAMPS

  • Muscle cramps in the abdominal area or arms and legs that are often accompanied by heavy sweating and mild nausea.

What to do: Move the person to a cool place to rest and apply firm pressure to the cramping muscle. Gently stretch the cramped muscle, hold it for 20 seconds and then gently massage it. Have the person drink some cool beverages, such as water or a sports drink. Get medical help if there is no improvement or if the person has underlying medical problems.

DEHYDRATION

  • Dehydration is caused by excessive loss of water and salts from the body due to illness or from prolonged exposure to heat.
  • Severe dehydration can easily become a life-threatening condition for infants and the elderly.
  • Signs of dehydration include thirst, dry skin, fatigue, light-headedness, confusion, dry mouth, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and less frequent urination.

What to do: Move the person to a cool and dry place. Have the person lie down and rest, and drink water, juice, or sports drinks. Monitor the person – especially children and the elderly.

SUNBURN

  • Skin that is red, painful and warm after sun exposure.

What to do: Get medical help if the sunburn affects an infant or if there is fever, fluid-filled blisters or severe pain. Otherwise, apply cold compresses or immerse the burned skin in cool water, apply moisturizing lotion to the burn.

HEAT RASH

  • A rash that looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters, usually in the neck and upper chest or in body creases. Most common in young children.

What to do: Move the person to a cooler place and keep the affected area dry. Use talcum powder to increase comfort.

Drinking water hot sun

TIPS FOR PREVENTING A HEAT ILLNESS

  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing
  • Avoid dark-colored clothing, because dark colors absorb the heat
  • Drink lots of fluids — non-alcoholic
  • Check your medications — some make you more sensitive to sun and heat
  • Never leave a child, an elderly person, a pet, or any living creature in a parked car in hot weather. Ever.
  • Avoid strenuous activity. If you can’t, try to do it in early morning or evening. Take breaks and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Read and remember the signs I listed at the beginning of this post.

We aren’t used to 90-degree weather the first days of June here in New England. A lot of people took advantage and went to the lake or the ocean, but the three people I know who got sick were working outside. Their symptoms took them by surprise and were scary, not just for them but also for the people who were with them. Fortunately, everyone is fine now.

I’m not your mother, but don’t forget to be careful when it’s hot outside!

 

 

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For many years Diane Atwood was the health reporter on WCSH6. She's now a regular guest on the WCSH6 Morning Report. She is also a freelance health and wellness writer and blogger AND is pursuing a fine arts degree at the University of Southern Maine. Diane never plans to retire. She's too busy enjoying what she does.