Get Out There

Recognizing the Signs of Heatstroke

Heat advisories and warnings have been in effect all around the country. High-temperature records have been broken that have stood since the 1930s. Parts of the country have sat at triple-digit heats for weeks on end with no reprieve. Water mains have broken in the heat. Heat-related medical emergencies are up.  

These are definitely dangerous heat conditions,” said Andrew Orrison, a Weather Service meteorologist.

While we usually urge you to get outside on Fridays, you need to look at your local weather report and decide if it’s safe to do so. When it’s sweltering, the risks outweigh the benefits. People who are over the age of 65 are more prone to heat-related health problems. Their bodies don’t thermoregulate as well as younger people’s. Medications and age-related health concerns can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses. Heatstroke can lead to death, so it’s essential to avoid it and recognize the symptoms to get help fast.

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heatstroke. Dr. Adam Rivadeneyra, a sports medicine physician with Hoag Orthopedic Institute, said heat illness is a “continuum.” Heat exhaustion is when the body has an imbalance of fluids because of extended exposure to high temperatures. Heatstroke is when the body cannot thermoregulate and cool down because of high temperatures.

Just 10 to 15 minutes of heatstroke without treatment can lead to permanent health damage or death. Illness progresses from heat cramps to heat exhaustion to heatstroke. Signs of heatstroke can be counterintuitive. Cool, moist skin with goosebumps in a hot place are signs of heatstroke. Symptoms that you would more easily identify include profuse sweating, feeling faint or dizzy, a weak, fast pulse, cramps, nausea and headaches.

One of the best ways we cool down is by sweating. Older people are more prone to being overwhelmed by the heat, but children are also at a heightened risk. Their smaller bodies don’t have as much surface area to sweat from, and they can become hotter faster. Drinking fluids with electrolytes, staying out of the sun, wear light-colored and light-weight clothes and not exercising outdoors can help you avoid illness.  

If you or someone near you becomes ill, do not hesitate to call 911. Heatstroke is not a condition to shrug off. A person can lose consciousness, begin vomiting and need medical attention. Get them into a cooler place immediately and get them a cool glass of water. And get them icepacks for their head, neck, groin, wrists, ankles and armpits. If possible, getting a person into a cold bath is the best way to cool them off quickly.  

Heatstroke can lead to organ failure. It’s not something to ignore. If you don’t have air conditioning or your power goes out because of high temperatures this summer, call the police. By contacting your local police department, you can get help staying cool and information about cooling centers. It could save your life!

Banner image: Grooveland Designs via Unsplash

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