Heatstroke occurs when the body reaches an internal temperature of 40ºC. or 104ºF. Of course, symptoms may appear before reaching that temperature. Heatstroke is the most serious form of heat illness and as you may have heard, it is a life-threatening emergency. It is the result of prolonged and extreme exposure to the sun. In this case, a person doesn’t sweat enough to lower body temperature. Our bodies produce a great deal of internal heat and we usually cool ourselves by sweating and radiating heat through our skin.
However, there are circumstances such as extreme heat, high humidity, or vigorous activity in the sun, where the body’s natural cooling system can begin to fail. That is why heat builds up to dangerous levels. People most susceptible to heatstroke are the elderly, infants, those who work outdoors, people with mental illness, obesity, poor circulation, and those who take certain types of medications or drink alcohol. While older people are at higher risk for heatstroke, infants and children are, too. Babies or young children, especially when left unattended in a closed car, can suffer from heat-related illnesses, as the interior temperature of a closed car can rise to dangerous levels, even in the presence of moderate weather.
What Causes Heat Stroke
Of course, exercise is a major contributor to body overheating, especially for athletes. Obviously, active muscles generate a great deal of heat. Passive heat stroke, which occurs when the body is at rest, mainly affects older people. During high internal temperatures, blood flow becomes a major problem. Heat and exercise cause blood vessels to dilate, so the heart works harder to maintain blood flow.
An elevated heart rate can be a warning sign that the body temperature is very high. Of course, like any muscle, the heart can only work so hard before it is exhausted and the cardiovascular system begins to collapse. The heart rate plummets and blood flow slows. Without adequate blood flow to the brain, people may experience confusion or difficulty concentrating and become dizzy.
In this process, the hypothalamus slows down the activity of some organs to prioritize the energy needs of the heart and lungs. The gut, kidneys, and other organs that are not directly connected to respiratory or cognitive functions become less active as body temperature rises and blood flow plummets, leading to ischemia. Ischemia is the reduction of blood flow in the body’s tissues, which causes a decrease in the amount of oxygen and nutrients. In the most severe cases, these organs can be permanently damaged.
Symptoms of a heat stroke
Next, we will indicate the most common symptoms of heatstroke. Of course, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, disorientation, agitation or confusion, sluggishness, or fatigue. You may also have hot, dry, and red skin but not sweaty, high body temperature, loss of consciousness, fast heartbeat. There may be hallucinations, shortness of breath, seizures, and death. Clearly, some of the symptoms may resemble symptoms of other conditions or medical problems. But in the same way, you must be forewarned. It is worth mentioning that if a person becomes dehydrated and cannot sweat enough to cool their body, their internal temperature can rise to very high levels and be actually very dangerous.
Treatments and first aid for heatstroke
People with heatstroke should receive immediate treatment to avoid permanent organ damage. First, the affected person must be cooled down. The person should be taken to a shady area, remove their clothing, apply cold or warm water to the skin, you can also fan the affected person to promote sweating and evaporation, and if you can place ice packs under the armpits and the groin.
If the person can drink fluids, then provide cold water or other drinks that are cold but don’t contain alcohol or caffeine. If you can, monitor the body temperature with a thermometer and continue trying to cool the body of the person affected by heatstroke until the body temperature drops to 38.8 ° C. Of course you must not forget to call the emergency services. They can also give you further instructions for treating the person with heatstroke.
How to prevent heatstroke?
The most important steps to prevent heat stroke are avoiding dehydration and avoiding vigorous physical activities in hot, humid climates. If you must be physically active in hot weather, then drink plenty of fluids like water and sports drinks, but you should definitely avoid alcohol and caffeine, including soda and tea, as these can lead to dehydration. Of course, your body will need to replenish electrolytes like sodium and fluids if you sweat excessively or engage in vigorous activity outdoors and during the day for long periods of time.
You must take frequent breaks to hydrate and spray yourself with a spray bottle to avoid overheating. However, try to schedule your physical activities or exercises for the cooler times of the day. For people who don’t go out much, it is preferable that you gradually increase the time you spend outdoors so that your body gets used to the heat. Wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothing and hats. Although, try to spend as much time indoors as possible on very hot and humid days. It is worth mentioning that you should not leave children and pets in closed cars on hot or sunny days.