Dr Tendai Zuze Health Matters
As we get deeper into summer, high environmental temperatures will become a significant problem. Heatstroke is a medical problem caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures or by doing physical activity in hot weather.
You should worry about heatstroke when you have the following:
High body temperature. A body temperature of 40 degrees Celsius or higher is the main sign of heatstroke.
A lack of sweating. In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel moist.
Nausea and vomiting. You may become nauseated or even vomit.
Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
Rapid breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
Racing heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
Headache. You may experience a throbbing headache.
Confusion. You may have seizures, hallucinate, or have difficulty speaking or understanding what others are saying.
Unconsciousness. You may pass out or fall into a state of deep unconsciousness.
Muscle cramps or weakness. Your muscles may feel tender or cramped in the early stages of heatstroke, but may later go rigid or limp.
Heatstroke can occur in these situations:
Exposure to a hot environment. In non exertional heatstroke, the condition is caused by a hot environment that leads to a rise in body temperature, without strenuous physical activity. It occurs most often in older adults and in people with chronic illness.
Strenuous activity. In exertional heatstroke, the condition is caused by an increase in body temperature brought on by physical activity in hot weather.
Heatstroke treatment centres on cooling your body to a normal temperature to prevent or reduce damage to your brain and vital organs.
To do this, your doctor may take these steps:
Immerse you in cold water. Your doctor may put your body in a bath of cold water or ice water to quickly lower your temperature.
Use evaporation cooling techniques. These use evaporation instead of immersion to lower your body temperature. In this technique, cool water is misted on your skin while warm air fanned over your body causes the water to evaporate, cooling the skin.
Pack you with ice and cooling blankets. Another method is to wrap you in a special cooling blanket and apply ice packs to your groin, neck, back and armpits to lower your temperature.
If you get symptoms of heat stroke, take steps to cool you off while waiting for emergency help to arrive. The following steps may be sufficient to lower your body temperature:
Get to a shady or air-conditioned place. Remaining in the heat will worsen your condition.
Cool off with damp sheets and a fan. If you’re with someone who’s experiencing heat-related symptoms, cool the person by covering him or her with damp sheets or by spraying with cool water.
Take a cool shower or bath. If you’re outdoors and nowhere near shelter, soaking in a cool pond or stream also can help bring your temperature down.
Rehydrate. Keep in mind that the symptoms of heat-related illnesses are caused not only when you become dehydrated but also when you lose salt through sweating. Some sports drinks will replenish both water and salt.
Don’t drink beverages with alcohol to rehydrate. These drinks may interfere with your body’s ability to control your temperature.
Heatstroke is predictable and preventable.
Take these steps to prevent this potentially fatal condition during this hot weather:
Wear loose fitting, lightweight clothing. Wearing excess clothing or clothing that fits tightly won’t allow your body to cool properly.
Wear light-coloured clothing if you’re in the sun. Dark clothing absorbs heat. Light-coloured clothing can help keep you cool by reflecting the sun’s rays.
Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated will help your body sweat and maintain a normal body temperature.
Take extra precautions with certain medications. Be on the lookout for heat-related problems if you take medications that can affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat.
Never leave children or anyone else in a parked car. This is a common cause of heat-related deaths in children. It’s not safe to leave a person inside a parked car in hot weather for any period of time, even if the car is in the shade.
Take it easy during the hottest parts of the day. If you can’t avoid strenuous activity in hot weather, follow the same precautions and rest frequently in a cool spot.
Get acclimatised. Limit the amount of time you spend working or exercising in the heat until you’re conditioned to it. People who are not used to hot weather are especially susceptible to heat-related illness, including heatstroke. It can take several weeks for your body to adjust to hot weather.
If you suspect you, or someone you know may have this life threatening problem visit a health centre as a matter of urgency.