Prevent Heat Stroke in the Summer
Heat strokes are common during summers with extreme temperatures, especially when exposed to the sun for long periods. Heat stroke is a condition which is caused due to overheating of the body, usually as a result of physical exertion or prolonged exposure to high temperatures. The serious condition of heat stroke can occur when the body temperature increases to 104F (40C) or more.
Emergency treatment is required for heat stroke, because if untreated it can damage the heart, brain, muscles and kidneys quickly. The longer the treatment is delayed the more is the risk for serious complications to occur and may even lead to death.
Heat stroke can be caused due to the following:
Exposure to hot environment: Heat stroke which occurs due to prolonged exposure to hot, humid weather is called classic or non-exertional heat stroke. The body temperature increases due to prolonged exposure to the heat. It normally occurs in children, older people and in people with chronic illness.
Strenuous activity: When intense activity is done in hot environment, there will be an increase in body temperature which causes exertional heat stroke. It can occur in anyone who are working or exercising in hot weather, but mostly occurs in people who are not used to high temperatures.
In both types of heat stroke, the condition can be aggravated by:
- Wearing excess clothing which prevents evaporation of sweat.
- Alcohol consumption which can affect the ability of body to regulate the body temperature.
- Becoming dehydrated by not drinking enough water.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- High body temperature of 104F or higher.
- Change in the behavior or mental state which results in confusion, slurred speech, delirium, irritability, seizures and coma.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Redness of the skin due to increased body temperature
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Throbbing headache
Physical examination done by a physician can detect heat stroke, but laboratory tests can help to confirm the diagnosis so that other causes of the symptoms can be ruled out. The laboratory tests include:
- Blood test: Blood tests are done to check the levels of sodium, potassium and blood gases in the blood.
- Urine test: urine test is done to check its color as it’s usually darker when a person is affected by heat. It is also done to check the kidney function whether it has been affected by heat stroke.
- Muscle function tests are done to check for rhabdomyolysis (damage to the muscles).
- X- Ray and other scanning tests to check if any damage is done to internal organs.
The factors which increase the risk of developing heat stroke include:
- Age: The ability to cope with heat depends on the central nervous system of the individual. As the nervous system is not developed completely in infants and is weak in older persons, this group of persons cannot tolerate extreme heat.
- Exertion in hot weather: Playing outdoor games such as football or taking military training in hot weather can lead to heat stroke.
- Sudden exposure to hot weather.
- Lack of air conditioning during sustained hot weather.
- Certain medications such as vasoconstrictors, beta blockers, diuretics and antidepressants can worsen the condition.
- Certain chronic illnesses of heart or lungs and obesity increase the risk of heatstroke.
Depending on how long the body temperature was increased, heat stroke can lead to various complications such as:
- Vital organ damage: Heatstroke can cause brain and other vital organs to swell which can lead to permanent damage.
- Death: Without immediate and adequate treatment, heat stroke can lead to death.
The mainstay of the treatment for heat stroke is to reduce the increased body temperature and bring it to normal levels to prevent damage to the brain and other vital organs. The following steps may be recommended by the physician to reduce the temperature:
- Immersion in cold water: Cold water or ice water sponge bath can reduce the body temperature quickly.
- Using evaporation cooling technique: In this technique, cool water is sprayed on the body and then warm air is fanned on it causing the water to evaporate and cool the skin.
- Packing with ice and cooling blankets: The patient is wrapped in special cooling blankets and ice packs are applied to the neck, back, armpits and groin to reduce the temperature.
- Medications to stop shivering: Muscle relaxant such as Benzodiazepine may be given by the physician if the cold treatments make the patient to shiver as shivering increases the body temperature and makes the treatment less affective.
The following steps should be followed to prevent heat stroke in hot weather:
- Wearing light weight, loose fitting clothes to allow the body to cool properly.
- Applying sunscreen with an SPF more than 15 to prevent sunburn.
- Staying hydrated. by drinking plenty of fluids.
- Sitting in a parked car is dangerous in summers, as the temperature in the car can rise by more than 6.7 C in just 10 minutes. It is a common cause of heat stroke related deaths in children.
- Scheduling exercise or physical labor for the cooler times of the day such as early morning or late evening.
- Being cautious and seeking medical help immediately if symptoms of heat stroke are experienced.
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