Heat Stroke: Summer Sun Sensibility
“I used to be able to work all day in the summer heat. During harvest, I gave it my all in the hundred degree-plus temperatures, and I felt great, just a little tired at the end of the day. Then, about ten years ago, I had a heat stroke. I overdid it, and now I cannot tolerate the heat. After it hits about 85 degrees, I can’t stand it. I haven’t been able to tolerate it since.”
—Stuart, 62 year-old farmer
Heat stroke takes a toll now, and later. It is a brutal attack on the body, and the body may never be able to tolerate heat again, just as Stuart said above. Just as the winter cold can cause permanent damage through frostbite, the summer heat can wreak havoc on the rest of your life. For a small percentage of those who experience heatstroke, they will never know, because they don’t live through it.
The most heartbreaking cases of heat stroke—also known as sun stroke—are those cases when small children or babies are left in a hot car and forgotten—until it is too late. Between 1998 and 2011, at least 500 children in the Unites States died while trapped in a hot car. Seventy-five percent of these children were two years old or under.
In more recent years, there have been media campaigns to increase awareness of this horrific situation, which typically occurs when the parent deviates from their normal routine, and forgets that the child is in the back. Perhaps the parent/caregiver typically doesn’t take the child to day care, but did on this particular day. This is typically unintentional, and the ensuing heartbreak may or may not result in legal action against the parent/caregiver.
Some of these cases are due to a parent/caregiver assuming that it is safe to leave a child for a short period of time in the car.
It is NEVER safe to leave a child in a car alone. EVER.
When the outside temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it can quickly exceed 120 degrees if it is parked in direct sunlight.
Another highly publicized situation that has captured more recent media attention is the plight of athletes practicing in high temperatures.
This extreme exertion, coupled with lack of proper fluid intake can be a recipe for disaster. When heavy clothing and padding is added—such as the case with football players—this trifecta can and does prove deadly.
As with the recent campaigns to keep children out of hot cars, there has been increased media attention paid to this tragic—and preventable–aspect of sports practices and games.
Heat stroke is defined as hyperthermia with a body temperature greater than 105.1 degrees as a result of environmental heat exposure, as opposed to a fever due to illness. Lack of relief and regulation from this heat also plays a role, as when not enough fluids are consumed, and relief is not provided in the form of removal of extra layers of clothing or equipment, such as in the case of football players with padding, and firefighters with heavy gear. It is not to be confused with a cerebral stroke involving a blockage or hemorrhage in the brain. Rather, it is called a “stroke” due to the sudden outcome, such as when one is struck by an object.
Common sense plays a big role in prevention of these and every other kind of heat stroke.
- Find a new way to alert yourself to a child who is typically not in your care and needs to be dropped off. Put your cell phone or purse next to the car seat so that these will be reminders.
- As always, but especially if you are outdoors in the heat, drink plenty of water.
- If it feels too hot, and you don’t have to be in it, don’t go outdoors.
- If your child is an athlete, advocate for a change in practice times, duration, or other changes that will make it safer for the athlete.
More specifically, the following measures should be employed as prevention:
- Drink fluids often, and especially before you are thirsty.
- Monitoring the color of urine. Dark yellow may indicate dehydration.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Loose-fitting clothing and hats, both with ventilation to allow the body to cool naturally are best.
- Block out sun and other heat sources.
- Avoid beverages containing alcohol and caffeine.
- Know signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
The early signs of heat-related illness include:
- mental confusion
- young children may have seizures
As the heat-related illness progresses into heat stroke, the following symptoms are more common:
- 105.1 degree or above body temperature
- throbbing headache
- red, hot and dry skin.
- nausea and vomiting
- rapid, shallow breathing.
- muscle weakness or cramps
- lack of sweating
All the above symptoms require immediate medical attention, summon emergency help and proceed with the following treatment to lower the body temperature as soon as possible:
- move the affected person to a cooler area, if possible
- remove clothing
- bathe person in cold water or apply cold compresses
- if person is unconscious, great care and extra help must be taken if immersed in water
The summer heat is heavily upon us. Knowing the risks and ensuring adequate levels of hydration for yourself are vitally important. If you are a caregiver for a child or a person who cannot monitor this for themselves, it is imperative that you monitor them as well.
Following your instincts and common sense is a necessity in the heat, just as it is in the cold weather.
Against previous, commonly-held notions, heat stroke does not typically come and go without leaving its mark. As noted in the opening quote, its effects can and will likely linger long after the acute symptoms have resolved. For an extremely small percentage, it can be fatal. It is a small percentage, but keep in mind it can indeed be fatal.
Summer is here for some time, and will continue to deliver its hot blow every summer after this one. Summer can be safely and sensibly enjoyed. Just don’t forget to pay attention to the signs of heat stroke.
Better yet, pay closer attention to prevention.