Every summer, kids flood out of classrooms and into the sun for memorable days at swimming pools, amusement parks and everything in between. You’ll also take advantage of the great weather, whether it’s accompanying your kids on their adventures or enjoying your own favorite outdoor activities. While fun might be the primary focus, it’s crucial that you understand the danger of prolonged exposure to heat and sunlight and the symptoms of heatstroke.
What is heatstroke?
According to WebMD, heatstroke is a condition in which prolonged exposure to high temperatures and a lack of proper hydration shut down your body’s ability to regulate temperature. This results in a core body temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, which can cause considerable damage to the brain, central nervous system and vital organs. In severe cases, heatstroke can be fatal. This condition is considered a medical emergency that warrants an immediate call to 911. While heatstroke most commonly affects people over the age of 65 and infants and children younger than 4, it can still occur in younger adults with overexposure to the sun and extreme dehydration.
What are the symptoms?
It’s important to understand that while heat rash, sunburn, heat cramps and heat exhaustion are not the same as heatstroke, these are heat-related conditions that can signal an elevated risk for heatstroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the key symptoms of heatstroke are: an elevated body temperature of 103 degrees or higher; hot, red, dry or damp skin; rapid heartbeat; headaches; dizziness or light-headedness; nausea; confusion; and loss of consciousness. WebMD adds that rapid, shallow breathing; a lack of sweating; muscular cramps or weakness; and seizures may also indicate heatstroke.
In addition to certain age groups, the Mayo Clinic notes that factors potentially increasing your risk of heatstroke include use of medication or illegal drugs, use of alcohol, improper dress, obesity and a heat index of 91 degrees or higher. If someone falling into any of these categories displays symptoms of heatstroke, they should take steps immediately to prevent further exacerbation.
How to treat heatstroke
If you’re suffering from heatstroke yourself, it will be difficult for you to handle it yourself given the likelihood of confusion and possible loss of consciousness. If you notice that someone in your party is showing signs of heatstroke, the CDC advises calling 911 immediately as your first step. Until emergency services arrive, you should move an afflicted individual to a cooler place and work to lower their body temperature by immersing them in cold water, packing them with ice or cool blankets, fanning air over their body or moistening their skin.
How to prevent heatstroke
On days where the heat index exceeds 93 degrees, you should carefully consider any outdoor activities and, if possible, cancel your plans. If you’re unable to avoid being out in the heat, it’s essential that you stay properly hydrated, especially if you plan to be active — WebMD recommends 24 ounces of fluids two hours prior to any exercise or strenuous outdoor activity and 8 ounces of fluids every 20 minutes or so during. You may also want to drink sports drinks rich in electrolytes.
It’s also important that you prepare yourself before going outdoors. You’ll want to wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing and the appropriate footwear, eyewear and headwear. You should also liberally apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor rating of at least 30 SPF.
Recognizing the signs of heatstroke and knowing how to act can be the difference between a close call and a tragedy. Don’t underestimate the danger of spending too long in the sun and heat this summer; take all proper precautions to protect yourself.