Stroked by the Sun
**Drink plenty of water before you go out.**
**Wear light-colored clothing.**
**Avoid the hottest afternoon hours outside.**
**Drink plenty of water while you are in the sun.**
**Make sure there is shade available.**
**Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing.**
**Drink plenty of water after being in the sun.**
You have likely heard all this advice before regarding summer heat safety. It may go in one ear and out the other, just like your mother saying, “eat your vegetables.” You know it is important, but “it won’t happen to me…”
Heat stroke—also known as sun stroke–is real, and it is really dangerous. It strikes those who are not prepared nor fit to be in the intense heat, and its effects may last throughout the rest of the affected person’s life.
In the most extreme cases, it can take one’s life. This is serious business.
In the Midwest, winters are brutally cold, and summers are extremely hot. The range of temperatures we experience from the climax of summer to the dead of winter are extreme. We all know how important it is to protect ourselves from danger in the cold winter. It is equally important to protect ourselves in the summer.
Most of us have our favorite seasons. For many, those are spring or fall. For some, however, the extreme cold and extreme heat are the most favored. For those of us who find comfort in the heat, we may be drawn to the outdoors in the heat. Call us crazy; I am including myself here. I adore the heat, I crave it; I love the intensity. I know how important it is to be careful. I know that I need to drink lots of water before, during and after heat exposure. I know when the most intense times of day are. I know not to over-exert myself during those times. I know to get the outdoor physical movement done such as yard care, gardening and exercising done in the early morning or early evening hours.
Still, I know I have to be careful. I know I cannot be overconfident. I am not invincible; neither are you. We I have to remember the warning signs, including:
- Hyperthermia: body temperature of at least 105 degrees, in combination with disorientation and lack of sweating. If the person is exerting themselves in the sun, it may be extreme sweating vs. lack of sweating. This is NOT to be confused with an illness with a fever caused by other factors where extreme heat from the sun is not involved.
- Before the heat stroke, signs of heat exhaustion are present, including: dizziness, headaches, weakness and mental confusion.
- Substances consumed before the heat stroke that increase risk include: alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants, as well as certain medications.
- moving the affected person to a cooler area
- remove clothing to aid cooling
- applying cold compresses or towels or bathing them in cold water. Wrapping them in wet towels could delay cooling, as it may act as insulation.
- immersion in cool water or a cool shower is considered the best treatment in general, but care must be taken if the person in unconscious or barely responsive. This may take the efforts of several people, with care taken to hold the person’s head above the water.
Be aware, and take it easy in the sun.
Exertional heat stroke is caused by excess physical activity with insufficient cooling. Athletes working out in the heat of the day, outdoor laborers, military personnel with heavy gear, or first responders such as fire fighters or EMTs are especially at risk.
The elderly and the very young are at increased risk. People at each end of these age extremes should be monitored closely when outdoors in the heat. Chronically ill people also have a greater risk of developing symptoms.
In the United States, approximately 600 people die each year from heat stroke. Among those who survive, many report chronic and lingering symptoms long after the heat stroke is resolved.
Heat stroke is also a risk for animals. Pets and livestock can also succumb to the heat, so precautions should be taken to prevent overexposure to heat for animals, including NOT leaving them in the car alone in the heat.
Tragically, many helpless children die as a result of a parent leaving them in a hot car. Most are small babies/children strapped in a car seat and forgotten. Sadly, some are intentionally left in a hot car while a parent runs and errand or tends to some other personal activity, lacking the knowledge that the car will indeed become too hot for the child. Additionally, there are reported cases of children climbing into a parked, unlocked car and succumbing to the heat.
Awareness of this risk is crucial. It is recommended that if your routine does not include dropping your child off, and your child is in the back, place a valuable item that you will remember to take inside—your phone or a purse—next to the child so that they will not be forgotten.
Treatment should ALWAYS involve alerting Emergency Medical Services (EMS) immediately. While waiting for help to arrive, taking measures to cool the person is important, including:
Perhaps the term “cool” has a positive connotation in our language because of the importance of staying cool physically. Being “cool” is apparently a good thing to be—especially in the summer heat.