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The Dangers of Heat Stroke

August is known to be the hottest month of the summer. Preparing to live through the sweltering heat is one of the best ways to survive with minimal issues. Heat-related illnesses are among the top reasons for emergency room visits during the summer months, according to research. Heat exhaustion can be just as serious as heat stroke. Protect yourself and loved ones from the heat by educating yourself about its dangers.

What is a Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke occurs when your body’s natural processes to regulate your core temperature begin to fail as you become overheated. Our bodies regulate our core temperature to maintain a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit — even in the hottest or coldest environmental conditions. For this to be possible, our thermoregulatory system uses different physiological mechanisms in order to balance the heat produced inside the body and the amount of heat lost to the environment. When these mechanisms break down, heat stroke symptoms occur. Did you know that you have temperature receptors in your skin? When the temperature outside the body becomes too high, the receptors send messages to the hypothalamus, which is the processing center in the brain. When the body becomes overheated, it releases heat by sweating and activating the muscles in your skin. Your blood vessels also begin to swell, or dilate, causing your skin to look red. More warm blood then flows close to the surface of your skin so that heat is lost through the skin and into the air. Muscles in your skin work to increase heat loss by causing your hairs to lay down flat, as opposed to raising them up in order to trap more warmth. Your skin glands also secrete sweat onto the surface of your skin in order to increase heat loss by evaporation. Your body will keep sweating, releasing internal heat, until your body temperature returns to normal. The problem is when you sweat so much in an effort to cool down the body that you become dehydrated. When your body runs out of fluids to sweat out, and you haven’t been drinking enough water to supply more fluids, your body temperature will continue to rise. Then you may begin to notice heat stroke symptoms. Once your body’s core temperature rises, all of your innate processes that are in place to regulate your internal temperature break down, creating a serious problem.

Heat Stroke and Exhaustion Symptoms

Symptoms of heat exhaustion are:

  • muscle cramps

  • heavy sweating

  • pale or cold skin

  • weakness and/or confusion

  • Dizziness

  • Headache

  • nausea or vomiting

  • fast heartbeat

  • dark-colored urine, which indicates dehydration.

In addition to these symptoms, warning signs of heatstroke also include:

  • fever of 104°F or higher

  • flushed or red skin

  • lack of sweating

  • trouble breathing

  • Fainting

  • Seizures.

How to Treat Heat Stroke

Immediate heat stroke treatment involves cooling the victim's body as soon as he or she shows signs of distress. Dousing the person with cold water from a hose or putting him or her in a cold shower can be effective. Wrapping a heat stroke victim in cold towels is also a good measure. Cooling the body of a heat stroke victim is crucial to reduce damage to the person's brain and vital organs

How to Prevent Heat Stroke

Whether you have a heart condition, are elderly and obese or young and athletic, it's important to take steps to prevent heat stroke. Experts recommend these strategies:

  • Try to avoid being outdoors during the hottest part of the day. Instead of mowing the lawn in the middle of the day when it's 100 degrees, we suggest you do it at 8 a.m. or at night. Sports teams take this advice; many of them practice early in the day rather than in the middle of the day, when temperatures are highest. If you're exercising or working in the heat, modify your work-to-rest ratio depending on the environmental conditions. If it's hotter outside, you'd do more rest than physical activity. You should also try to acclimatize yourself gradually to hotter temperatures over a span of a week to 10 days. Slowly increase the amount and intensity of work or exercise you do in the heat.

  • Drink lots of water. Hydration is the single most important aspect of heat stroke prevention, since sweating is the most important mechanism our bodies have to get rid of heat. Be careful to work in some snacks with your water intake, he says. Drinking too much water without consuming any electrolytes – such as calcium, potassium and magnesium – can dilute the body's sodium, leading to such problems as headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle spasms and seizures. Simply eating a snack while drinking water is the safest way to go.

  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing. You don't want to wear tight-fitting clothes in hot weather. You're better off wearing clothes that are loose enough to allow breezes to pass through, he says. Same goes for light-colored clothing, which absorbs less heat than dark-colored items. Wear a hat with a brim that shields the sun from your face.

  • Take frequent breaks. If you have to be outdoors during the hottest part of the day, take as many opportunities as you can to get out of the heat. If there's an air-conditioned public building nearby, go inside for a few minutes. Shade is another option – if it's available, spend as much time as you can in it, as opposed to being in the sun. One of the best options for people who play team sports is to cool down with cold and wet towels during any opportunity when the sport presents a break during a game or practice or at halftime.


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