Heat stroke is a serious form of hypothermia where the body temperature elevates at a rapid rate due to being unable to expel heat from the body. Lesser forms of heat stoke, such as heat cramps or heat exhaustion, ocurr more often than a full-on heat stroke, which is very dangerous and life-threatening. Heat stroke ocurrs most commonly outdoors in high heat (anywhere from 75- 100+ degrees) and left untreated can cause severe brain damage, seizures, or even death.
People most likely to suffer from heat stroke are infants, athletes, the elderly, or people who work outdoors for long periods of time. However, heat stroke can strike anyone, at any time, who is not properly protected against the sun and the heat, so every person should take precautions while they are outdoors.
The best way to treat heat stroke is via prevention. When outdoors, especially for longer periods of time, where loose-fitting, breathable clothing (preferably cotton). Keep the body hydrated to it can regulate heat and allow the body to sweat more effectively. Sweat is the body’s natural cooling method. We sweat the same way a dog pants to provide natural air conditioning for our bodies within. Heat stroke strikes when a person’s body temperature rises to 106 degrees and cannot get the temperature down. Exposing ones body to constant heat, especially while in motion (such as hiking, jogging, even gardening in your yard) for a lengthy period of time (in many people, especially children, a half hour of direct sun exposure can lead be dangerous) without proper clothing, hydration, and shade can lead to heat stroke.
Pets get heat stroke, too. Many people take their pets outdoors without remembering they need water and shade and their pets suffer out in the heat. Dehydrated pets cannot sweat enough to expel heat from their bodies and can lead to heat stroke. Also, leaving pets and children in the car, even with the windows down, can cause serious heat stroke, and is one of the main reasons pets acquire the dangerous condition. A car can rise to temperatures of 112 degrees or more within 20 minutes, even with the windows down, in the summer.
Warning signs of heat stroke are fatigue, reddening of the face or body, ample sweating while the body is still burning to the touch, vomiting, excessive thirst, muscle cramps, headaches, dizziness or collapse. Victims of heat stroke often become somewhat delirious, unable to speak correctly or hold onto a thought or conversation. When heat stroke strikes the body is being literally fried on the inside, and begins to react in sluggish behavior. For severe heat stroke, seizures can ocurr in the individual. Agitation, confusion, and odd behavior (stumbling, outbursts etc) can also ocurr.
Treatment for heat stroke, or suspected heat stroke (heat cramps, heat exhaustion should be treated as severely as heat stroke) should be applied immediately as soon as symptoms occur. If an individual or pet is experiencing heat stroke immediately remove them from the sun and get them to a shaded area. If clothed, remove clothing (clothing is trapping in heat) and apply cool, tepid water, like garden hose water, or cool water from the house or water bottle to the victim. The goal is to cool the heat stroke victim down as quickly and effectively as possible. If ice or ice packs are available, place those in areas of “hot spots” on the body (spots that retain temperature) such as the armpits and groin. Fan the body to promote sweating in the victim so they can cool themselves.
Monitor body temperature and continue cooling until the body has reached 101 degrees. Always call 911 or have the victim on their way to nearest emergency room or veterinarian as heat stroke can be fatal due to damage to the brain and other vital organs during the heat stroke. Do not automatically assume the victim is OK because their body temperature has gone down. While getting their body temperature to a lower level can be life-saving and is essential to aide the victim, they still need emergency professional care to make sure they are alright.
The best way to protect against heat stroke is hydration. Heat stroke is commonly caused by dehydration even if the weather extremes are not that hot. Without proper hydration the body cannot produce enough sweat to naturally cool down, and this can be disastrous. Wearing a hat to protect against the direct sunlight and wearing loose, light, breathable cotton clothing will help heat release from the body. Also watch for heat rashes (they look like a blistery sunburn) on the chest and neck area, which are naturally warning signs that the body is getting to warm. Never leave children or pets unattended in a hot car (even with the window down) and pay close attention to your body while out in the sun to protect against dangerous heat stroke.