In August 2003, Europe experienced a record heat wave claiming 35,000 lives. France alone lost 14,800 people, mostly the elderly due to heat stroke, when the temperature remained at 104 degrees F. for two weeks. The deaths could have easily been prevented had there been more supervision and air conditioning.
Who is at risk of heat stroke and other heat related illnesses?
* Older adults (and those without air conditioning) are especially vulnerable. People who take medication for high blood pressure are also at risk, as well as the chronically ill, homeless and drug addicts.
* The #2 cause of death in high school athletes is heat exhaustion, which can quickly turn into heat stroke and death. This happens when kids exercise strenuously outside, when the weather is oppressively hot. Last year in Florida where I live, a young high school boy died of heat stroke while practicing football in the summer heat.
* Also military personnel, firefighters, athletes and workers who engage in strenuous activity when the weather is very hot, are at risk.
* Too awful to imagine, every summer a few small children die needlessly of heat stroke because their parent or someone left them alone in a parked car which overheated in the hot sun, killing them.
What causes heat exhaustion and heat stroke?
Simply put, heat exhaustion occurs when the body cannot cool itself. Ordinarily when the air temperature rises, the body stays cool when sweat evaporates. On hot humid days, the evaporation of sweat is slowed by moisture in the air and the body cannot cool itself. The body temperature rises and heat illness occurs.
Heat exhaustion can happen gradually, and if the individual doesn’t cool off soon, it can develop into fatal heat stroke.
Symptoms and treatment of heat exhaustion
You or someone experiencing heat exhaustion may feel hot, dizzy, vomit, be confused, have a headache and void dark urine. You might be sweating heavily and have a fast heartbeat.
Treatment involves cooling the body. Get to a cool place. Drink plenty of water and non-alcoholic drinks. Avoid caffeinated beverages. Take a cool shower or sponge cool water onto bare skin. If not feeling better in 30 minutes get medical help, as heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke.
Symptoms and treatment of heat stroke
Heat stroke occurs when the body’s internal temperature reaches 104 degrees F. and the body no longer can cool itself. This can happen after being exposed to, or exercising in excessive summer heat. Heat stroke can lead to death if not treated immediately by medical help.
Symptoms of heat stroke are the same as those of heat exhaustion, but the skin is hot and dry, not sweaty. The individual may lose consciousness and have trouble breathing. He/she can have a severe headache, fever of 104 degrees F. and experience seizures. The skin may be bright red.
If you think someone has heat stroke call 911 immediately. While waiting, take the person to an air conditioned or cool place. Remove the person’s unnecessary clothing and apply ice packs to the underarm and groin area, neck and back. These areas contain a lot of blood vessels and help the body cool off.
Some think that with global warming, heat related illnesses such as heat stroke will increase. According to climate specialists, the summer of 2010 is the warmest on record.