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Heat Stroke – Do You Know the Signs?

Summer can be full of fun and excitement, but the high temperatures that hit much of the country from June to August can also be deadly. That’s why it’s important to understand the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion and learn how to keep everyone safe and healthy during outdoor activities.

“Get out of the sun, loosen any tight clothing, and begin misting the body with cold water.”

Warning Signs

Heat exhaustion results when the body is overheated without proper rest, hydration, and temperature control. While heavy sweating, rapid pulse, and even nausea and headaches are all unmistakable signs of heat exhaustion, some other symptoms might be harder to catch, such as fatigue or cool, moist skin covered by goosebumps. Also, although the symptoms of heat exhaustion can develop over time, they can also come on suddenly — especially after periods of prolonged or strenuous activity.

It is crucial to keep an eye out for symptoms of heat exhaustion, because when left unchecked it can quickly turn into heat stroke, a more serious condition that can cause lasting damage to the heart, kidneys, and brain, and even result in death. Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of heatstroke include altered mental state, disorientation, nausea and vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing, and a rapid pulse. While someone suffering from heat exhaustion may sweat profusely, those succumbing to heat stroke will often stop sweating, indicating the body can no longer cool itself, and immediate intervention is needed.

What to Do

If you or a loved one shows signs of heat exhaustion, the first step is to move the individual to a cooler environment. Get out of the sun, loosen any tight clothing, and begin misting the body with cold water. Placing ice packs in the armpits and groin can also help. At this point, rehydration should be the goal, so provide either plain water or water supplemented with electrolytes. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, or sugary drinks.

If you suspect the situation is more severe and heatstroke appears to be occurring or imminent, seek immediate medical attention. While you wait for help to arrive, move the sufferer indoors and remove any excess clothing. Begin cooling down the body with a cold tub of water, cold shower, or even ice packs on the person’s neck, groin, and armpits.

Staying Safe in the Sun

While heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be scary, a few simple steps can keep you and your family safe over the summer months. In addition to recognizing the symptoms, make sure to pay attention to your body by staying hydrated and participating in only moderate activities when the temperatures start to rise. If you start to feel ill, get out of the sun and find a cool place to rest, recuperate, and lower your body temperature. Other preventative measures include wearing lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, and allowing yourself to get acclimated to the heat before exercising. Finally, be aware if you’re at increased risk for heatstroke due to age, medications, or pre-existing conditions. Always err on the side of caution and avoid activity during the hottest part of the day or in any area that is not well ventilated with adequate shade.

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