Signs of Heat Stroke and How to Prevent It

After spending months social distancing, we expect you’re looking forward to summer. As self-isolation protocols are lifted and temperatures spike, people are going to flock to the great outdoors. Whether you’re looking forward to swimming, hiking, camping, or spending time in the garden, you need to stay safe this summer

Heat stroke is a common cause of hospitalization during the hot summer months of the North Bay. It’s easy for people to get involved in what they’re doing and forget to hydrate or take time to cool down. Unfortunately, severe cases of heat stroke that aren’t immediately treated can lead to permanent damage or death. 

Educating yourself is one of the best things you can do for your health and the health of your family. Keep reading to learn everything there is to know about heat stroke signs, treatments, and prevention. 

What Is Heat Stroke? 

Heat stroke occurs when your body can no longer adequately cool itself. When we’re hot, our bodies produce sweat, which cools us as it evaporates off our skin. However, in extreme conditions (high heat, high humidity) our body can’t keep up with the amount of heat being introduced. 

As a result, our body’s core temperature spikes, which can lead to a myriad of negative side effects.

The risk of suffering a heat-related illness can be exacerbated by several factors. This includes strenuous exercise, overdressing, alcohol consumption, dehydration, and more. Heat-related illness can also be caused by staying in a hot car for too long (which is often the case for pets and children).

Signs and Symptoms

What then, are the signs of heat stroke?

Heat stroke symptoms can vary from person to person and often depend on the severity of the episode. However, common signs of heat-related illness often present as early indicators of potential heat stroke. Spotting these signs early can prevent the escalation to heat stroke, hospitalization, and even death.

Keep an eye out for the following symptoms that are precursors to heat stroke:

  • Headache
  • Rapid Breathing 
  • Goosebumps
  • Cool moist skin
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme thirst
  • Heavy sweating
  • Heat cramps
  • Muscle cramps

However, in extreme cases, once heat exhaustion has escalated to heat stroke, the signs and symptoms will become more severe. You’ll know the situation has become more urgent when the victim exhibits the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Lack of perspiration (sweating)
  • Agitation
  • Disorientation
  • Seizure 
  • Loss of consciousness

Treatment 

If you or someone else is exhibiting heat stroke symptoms, you must act immediately to prevent lasting damage or death. Call emergency responders as soon as possible.

While you’re waiting for them to arrive, try to cool the person by moving them into the shade. If there’s no shade around, get creative with other people and clothing to shade the victim. 

Once in the shade, remove most of the victim’s clothing and douse their body with cool or tepid water. Fan their body to promote the evaporation of the moisture to help cool them. Then, place ice packs under their armpits and between their legs near their groin.

If possible, try to get the victim to drink hydrating liquids (ideally water). However, don’t force them to drink if they’re unable, which can lead to choking or inhaling water into the lungs.

Prevention

Sometimes, you can’t help but be exposed to high levels of heat and humidity. For example, there are many places in the Bay Area in California that don’t have air conditioning. However, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, there are things you can do to limit your risk factors of falling victim to heat stroke. 

Wear Light, Loose Clothing

One of the easiest things you can do to prevent heat stroke is dressing appropriately for the weather. Tight and/or heavy clothing doesn’t breathe well. It traps heat against your body and makes it incredibly difficult to cool off.

Instead, wear light, loose-fitting clothing that breathes easily. You don’t have to show a lot of skin if it makes you uncomfortable, either. In fact, it may be better to avoid direct sun-to-skin contact.

Utilize Fans and Shade

As we suggested above, we don’t expect every place in the Bay Area to have air conditioning. However, you can utilize window fans, ceiling fans, portable fans, and open windows to help keep things cooler. 

Additionally, if you’re outside, be sure you’re taking time to get out of the sun and rest in the shade.

Hydrate and Nourish

Another common mistake people make that leads to heat stroke is failing to hydrate adequately. However, it’s not just about drinking water. When you sweat, your body is also releasing a lot of sodium.

We recommend drinking water and nourishing your body with good foods and or sports drinks to replace electrolytes.

Don’t Get Sunburned

Unfortunately, it’s incredibly easy to accidentally get sunburned. Whether you’re purposely working on your tan or simply get caught up working or playing in the sun, sunburns can be detrimental to staying cool. 

They inhibit your body’s ability to cool itself and can make you feel overheated even in an airconditioned room. Use clothing, hats, and sunscreen to prevent sunburns. 

If you already have a sunburn, however, check out this simple guide on what to do, both in the moment and during recovery.

Limit Activity during the Hottest Part of the Day

Preventing heat stroke can be as simple as abstaining from strenuous activity outdoors during the hottest part of the day, which in California is around 3 pm, even though most people think it’s at noon. However, it’s probably wise to limit activity anywhere from noon to 4 or 5 pm. 

Allow Yourself Time to Adjust

Finally, allow your body time to acclimate to the changing season. Don’t go out on the first hot day and try to run a marathon or work on your roof all day. Spend short periods of time outside as the temperature rises until your body’s ready for more exposure. 

This is especially important for athletes and other exercise enthusiasts. 

Want More Medical Information?

Knowing what to do in emergency situations can save lives. Remember, if someone you know is exhibiting signs of heat stroke, call 911 immediately and start working to cool their body. Other than that, practice the above heat stroke prevention tips and encourage others to do the same.

If you’re looking for more information, be sure to check out some of our other articles. You can also take a look at our resources for patients or view our facilities.