First Aid for Heat Stroke
With the summer months comes running through the sprinkler, backyard barbeques, and a whole lot of sun! Living in Canada, it can be exciting to finally have warm weather and spend time outdoors soaking in the beautiful rays of sunshine. The sun is healing for some, but with sudden and constant exposure to the heat, there are also risks.
Heat stroke is one of the most common ailments brought on by increased time in the sun. Not only can it harm your skin, but it can have effects on your brain as well. So how do you protect yourself from heat stroke for those days you want to enjoy nice weather? Let’s learn a bit about it:
What is Heat Stroke?
Simply put, heat stroke occurs when your body overheats. If you have been sitting in the sun too long, or are exercising outdoors without proper protection, your body will start to feel the effects. Heat stroke can also be seen in individuals wearing too much clothing on hot days (preventing their skin from breathing) or consuming alcohol (dehydrating the body). Common symptoms of heat stroke are:
- High body temperature (usually 40 C or above)
- Hot and dry skin (no sweat)
- Reddened skin (similar to sun burn)
- Disorientation or delirium
- Increased breathing and heart rate
If you suspect yourself or another has heat stroke, it is important to take action right away.
What to do if you have Heat Stroke
Unlike dehydration or heat exhaustion, heat stroke requires immediate emergency attention. The increased body temperature can lead to other harmful effects such as damage to the brain and other organs. When someone begins showing signs and symptoms of heat stroke, it is crucial that you get help right away (call 911 or find a medical on-site worker) as well as work to lower their body temperature. Take action immediately to help lower the person’s body temperature by doing the following:
Give them a Drink
Immediately give the person something cool to drink. It is important to rehydrate the person so that their body temperature can begin to cool down. The best drink to offer them is cool water or a sports drink. Sports drinks can work to restore fluids and electrolytes. Be sure to avoid drinks with sugar or alcohol as they may increase the body temperature instead.
Remove Heavy or Restrictive Clothing
Heat stroke can be caused by exposure to high heat in addition to heavy clothes. Because the skin is not accessible to the air, the heat stays trapped, warming the person up. Remove any heavy or restrictive clothing, allowing their skin to be exposed to open air (inside or shaded).
Fan and Apply Water
Once the individual’s skin is exposed to air, gently fan air on the person. While you do this, apply lukewarm water onto their skin. Doing both of these actions together helps speed the cooling process as water evaporates from the skin.
Immerse in Cold Water
Depending on where you are, immersing the individual in cold water can work to quickly bring down their temperature. Whatever you have access to: a pool, shower, ice bath, etc. immerse the individual into the water. Ensure the water is not too cold as it can cause them to shiver – the body’s natural way of increasing temperature.
Apply Cooling Packs
If you do not have access to large amounts of water, cooling packs will work as well to lower the temperature. Apply the cooling packs to sensitive parts of the body, such as the neck, groin, back, and armpits. If using ice packs, wrap them in cloth so the individual’s skin does not react to the freezing pack.
It is important to watch how fast the person is cooling down, as shivering can increase the body temperature. In some cases, medication or muscle relaxants are given to prevent shivering. Medication should be given with caution, and if you are unsure of the use wait until help arrives.
How to Prevent Heat Stroke
One of the best things you can do to prevent heat stroke is to stay hydrated. When you see the sun out on a hot day, make water your best friend. By drinking water, you keep your body temperature cool, and beyond that you prevent muscle cramping and heat exhaustion, which can then lead to heat stroke. Staying cool is your top priority!
Aside from chugging the H2O, you can prevent heat stroke in a number of other ways:
- Stay in the shade
- Use sun-protection (hat and sunscreen)
- Wear loose and light clothing
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine
- Avoid overexertion
Be prepared for any hot day and know how to avoid heat stroke, know what symptoms to look for, and know first aid for heat stroke. Stay happy and healthy this summer, enjoying the sun safely!