What is a Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke is a severe life-threatening condition leading the body temperature to rise above 40oC (104oF). When the body is exposed to high levels of heat and is unable to cool itself, heatstroke and other heat-related conditions occur. Heatstroke is a type of sunstroke. The only difference is that sunstroke is brought about by excessive exposure to direct sunlight. It is characterized by severe hyperthermia and multiorgan dysfunction including complications like seizures, muscle breakdown, and/or kidney failure.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke
Your body can no longer cope with the heat. Your body’s natural cooling mechanisms fail, and your temperature rises to over 40°C. Other heatstroke or sunstroke symptoms include:
- Severe, throbbing headache
- Feeling very sick and being sick (vomiting)
- Fast pulse
- Shallow, rapid breathing
- Very hot, flushed skin
- Weak or cramping muscles
- No sweating despite being very hot
- Dizziness, feeling faint or fainting
- Confusion and agitation
- Loss of consciousness
Heatstroke, if left untreated, can cause swelling of your vital organs, including your brain and eventually their failure to function.
Causes of Heat Stroke
Heatstroke can occur as a result of:
- Exposure to a hot and humid environment: When people are exposed to high temperatures for an extended period of time, their core body temperature rises, resulting in non-exercise (classic) heatstroke.
- Vigorous Physical Activity: Exercising or working in hot weather can cause exertional heatstroke.
- Excessive Clothing: Wearing too much clothing can prevent sweat from evaporating quickly and cooling the body.
- Alcohol Consumption: It has the potential to impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
- Dehydration: Loss of fluids through sweating can lead to heatstroke.
Other Causes Include:
- Chronic illness like heart disease
- Older age
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Certain medications, such as diuretics, antihistamines, cocaine, etc.
Treatment of Heat Stroke
Heatstroke is a medical emergency that, if not treated promptly, can cause serious damage to the kidneys and other vital organs. If you think someone has heat stroke, immediately call the ambulance and seek emergency care.
- Place them in a cool environment and lay them down
- Stay with them at all times
- Remove as much of their clothing as possible
- Using cool water, wet their skin and then fan them
- Consider applying ice packs to the armpits, neck, and back of a young, healthy person who has developed heatstroke from vigorous exercise in hot weather
- Place them in the recovery position (rolling an unconscious patient onto their side in order to protect the airway), if they lose consciousness
What is Heat Exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body’s cooling system fails to maintain a normal body temperature, causing the body to overheat. It’s one of three heat-related syndromes, with heat cramps being the mildest and heatstroke being the most severe.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
Key signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Passing less urine (which is very dark)
- Dizziness and feeling faint
- Suffering from nausea, a lack of appetite, and stomach cramps
- Muscle cramps in legs and arms
- Rapid pulse
- Clammy, pale skin and profuse sweating
Causes of Heat Exhaustion
Some of the most common causes of heat exhaustion include:
- Excessive workout in a hot environment
- Sitting in a hot car without air conditioning
- Dehydration, especially on hot days
- Continual exposure to high temperatures for several days at a time
Treatment of Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion can be treated with fluids and a cool environment. If you think you’re showing signs, immediately:
- Move to a cool room
- Remove as much clothing as possible, especially if it is too tight
- Take a cool bath or shower
- If you don’t have access to a bath, sponge down with cool water
- If possible, turn on a fan (if your skin is damp, the evaporation will cool you down quicker)
- Lie down if possible
- Drink as many non-alcoholic fluids as you can
- Seek medical assistance if you’re not feeling better within half an hour
It’s essential to know the difference in symptoms and treatment for heat exhaustion and heatstroke — especially for those most at risk, such as young children and older adults.