With summer around the corner and erratic weather conditions becoming somewhat of the norm, heat waves are a more common occurrence these days. While it may seem like a good idea to spend the day outdoors, you may be at risk of heat-related illnesses. Your body has several ways to keep cool in order to prevent overheating, but sometimes this is not enough. When dealing with hot weather that you are not acclimatized to, try not to do what you normally would on a hot summer’s day. The reality is that a little too much of ‘fun in the sun’ can be dangerous and even life-threatening.
A heat stroke is the most severe type of heat-related illness that a person can experience. Overheating of the body (hyperthermia) results in 2 other types of heat-related illnesses before a heat stroke sets in. The first heat illness is heat cramps – the mildest form. It is then followed by heat exhaustion. If you do not make any attempt to cool down and get away from the source of heat, eventually a heat stroke will set in. At this point the body’s cooling mechanisms begin to fail and the body is in severe distress. It can lead to death unless you act quickly and properly.
Get Out Of The Sun
Directly sunlight on a hot day can raise the body temperature significantly compared to being in the shade. Even though your body has several mechanisms to cool down, there can be a point when the heat and sun is overwhelming. If you are suffering from even the mildest symptoms of a heat-related illness then you need to get out of the sun immediately. It is better to move indoors where you will be sufficiently shielded from direct sunlight. But if this is not possible then resting in the shade may suffice.
Cool Down The Room
Ideally you should get into an air conditioned room if you suspect that you may have any heat illness. Do not be concerned with the sudden change in temperature from the heat outside to the cold indoors. Your body is already in distress if you are suffering with a heat-related illness and the change from hot to cold is of little consequence. More than anything your body will start responding positively to the change in temperature and may be able to stabilize before the more serious effects of a heat stroke occur.
Remove All Clothing
Remember that sweating decreases or even stops altogether with more severe heat-related illnesses like a heat stroke. Even the lightest clothing can be an impediment when your body is trying to cool down. Remove as much of your clothing as possible in a public place. If you are indoors and have sufficient privacy then take off all your clothes. By exposing your skin to the environment, it will allow your body to dissipate as much heat as it can into the air.
Spray The Body
Spraying yourself with water is one way of cooling down to prevent a heat stroke. It can also be a life-saving measure when a heat stroke has set in and you cannot take more drastic steps to cool down fast. Since sweating stops in later stages of heat illness, a fine mist of water can have a similar effect to perspiration. In order to cool down, the blood vessels in the skin dilate to allow internal heat to reach the surface and the skin surface becomes moist from sweat. Evaporation of this sweat carries heat away with it. Spraying yourself with a fine mist of water works on the same principle to cool down the body. A cold shower may be even more effective.
Immerse In Cold Water
Water has the propensity to absorb significant amounts of heat. And with a heat stroke, the colder the water the better. Placing a person with a heat stroke or just before it starts, into a bath of cold water can make the difference between life and death. Fill up a bath with cold water and try to place ice in the bath tub if possible. Ice should never be applied directly on the skin but in the water instead. It can lower the body temperature more quickly than other measures but ensure that a person’s body temperature is not dropping too low in the process. Never leave a person with a suspected heat stroke along in a bath tub full of water.
Use Ice Packs
Ice packs are another convenient way of cooling down quickly. Since ice should not be applied directly to the skin, an ice pack is the best alternative to get ice as close to the skin as possible where a cold water bath is not possible. Any frost that may be on an ice pack should first be washed or wiped away before applying it to the skin.Emergency medical personnel will also use a cooling blanket to cover a person. It is not intended to retain heat but rather to keep the air around a person cool with the help of the ice pack.
Do Not Stand Or Walk
Physical activity requires energy and heat is produced in the process. This is the last thing you would want. Sit still or even lie down flat to reduce the body’s heat production. Walking and even standing requires the use of the muscles and in the process energy is expended and heat is produced. Never run if you feel the symptoms of a heat stroke or even a milder heat illness. Rather walk to shade or a cool place. Running generates a significant amount of heat and while it may get you to a cool place quicker, it can be even more detrimental in the end.
Avoid Warm Drinks
A person with a heat stroke may be shivering. Sometimes this is incorrectly perceived by others as the core body temperature being lower than normal. However, that is not the case. Shivering produces more heat. For this reason a doctor may prescribe medication to a heat stroke patient in order to stop shivering. Trying to warm the person up to counteract the shivering is one of the biggest mistakes in preventing a heat stroke or trying to stop it. Warm drinks are not going to help. In fact the heat compounds the problem once the drink is consumed. If a person can swallow and asks for a drink, rather give them as much cool water as possible.
Call A Doctor ASAP
A heat stroke should be treated as a medical emergency. Even though the measures above are very effective in preventing a heat stroke or minimizing the consequences, medical attention is still necessary. Any person with a heat stroke should be rushed to the emergency room. If this is not possible, then the steps listed above to cool down a person should be immediately undertaken until emergency medical personnel or a doctor can report to the scene. Trying to manage a heat stroke at home without professional medical help can make the difference between life and death.