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Heat Stroke: What You Need To Know

It cannot ever be underscored enough, the environment where we live can be unforgiving. We live in a high plains desert where the air is a bit rare, the humidity is low, and the wind at times leaves us breathless. In the summertime, the temps can climb into the upper nineties, and if we aren't careful before we've even realized it we're hot, dehydrated and on the verge of overheating.

Heat stroke can become commonplace phenomena during the summer months in South Eastern Wyoming. Our sweat can evaporate before we even feel the moisture gather on our skin, the sun beats down most hours of the day without ample cloud cover or natural shade available. And we Wyomingites tend to be outdoor seeking people: for work OR play. Below we've listed both some good offense for prevention of heat stroke, and what to do should you or someone you know become sidelined with heat stroke.

1.) Signs and Symptoms

Usually, it's not like "Bam, here is heat stroke!" Most commonly heat stroke presents as a steady progression of symptoms all within that family of heat illnesses: heat cramps, fainting (from being outside), heat exhaustion. But it can come on with no other signs or warnings.

Heat stroke usually manifests from a few combined occurrences: prolonged exposure to intensely high temperatures in combination with dehydration. This greatly impacts the body's ability to instill it's own temperature control systems which lead to further complications from the heat.

Here are the symptoms of Heat Stroke:

  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • Behavioral changes like confusion, disorientation, or staggering
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

2.) Take It Seriously

We can't emphasize enough that heat stroke is considered a medical emergency. Often classified as the most serious form of heat injury widely outstripping sunburn by a large margin, sun or heat stroke should be tended to by medical professionals as soon as possible. If you discern someone has developed heat stroke call 911 immediately and administer first aid until the EMT/Paramedic team arrives.

One of the reasons heat stroke is considered so serious is that it can cause damage to the brain or other vital organs. While people over the age of fifty to sixty are the most commonly affected it can greatly impact young healthy athletes practicing or performing in the heat of the day.

What First Aid can you administer while waiting?

  • Take their temp! Be sure to get a read on where their temperature is starting with a goal of getting it down to 101-102 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Get air circulating over them with a fan while wetting their skin with cool water with a sponge or towel.
  • Apply ice packs (wrapped in a light cloth) to the various areas where the blood vessels are close to the skin on their body: armpits, neck, back.
  • If the person is young in age and healthy (not diagnosed with a chronic illness) you can have them take (with constant supervision) a tepid or cool bath to help lower their temperature. Obviously, if they are having seizure activity or have become unconscious immersing them in a tub is not recommended.
  • Keep the emergency help on the line if possible and note any and all changes in symptoms.

3.) A Good Offense

Believe it or not, you don't have to be directly outside to develop heat stroke and it can even happen indoors. Those most at risk can include the elderly or the very young who are inside of homes or apartments on extremely hot days without air flow or air conditioning present. Others include those who are chronically dehydrated and on days where the UV index is high and the temps as well up there have not taken in enough fluids. As well those who have a chronic disease or who drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

A good tip is to pay very close attention to the predicted heat index on any given day. The heat index is not just the overall temperature outside, but the measurement of how hot you actually feel. Areas, where there is a great deal of humidity, can have a naturally higher heat index, but so can areas like ours in Southeastern Wyoming where we have a great deal of sunshine on any given day. Standing in direct sunlight can increase a person's own heat index by 15 degrees.

The chances of developing heat stroke dramatically increase in climates where a person is experiencing natural temperatures over 90 degrees and is exposed to direct sunlight. On days where our predictions are in the upper register the best offense is to stay indoors as much as possible and make sure all air flow methods are in good working order. Increase airflow in the home or office with fans and regulate the air conditioner, swamp cooler, or window units so they are keeping up with cool air flow.

Sometimes being in Wyoming we don't get to necessarily choose when work outside needs to be completed. So if you must go out on very hot days be prepared: drink plenty of water throughout the day, avail yourself of shade, try to get into areas where there is an airflow present from a fan or air conditioner regularly. Other ideas include wearing light colored looser fitted clothing, wide brimmed hats, also be sure to apply (and re-apply) sunblock of at least 30 SPF or higher.

Also of note everyone in our area especially should keep an eye on their urine to monitor the color and how often. This isn't just crucial on days where it's hot, think more year round. If you are not voiding consistently and if the color of urine is darker this is a signal that you are not getting nearly enough fluids. Drink enough water to maintain a very light-colored urine.

Those most at risk for developing heat stroke include the young, ages 4 and under and those over 65. The reason for this is because these groups adjust to temperature changes slower than others. As well other risk factors include those who have the following health conditions: heart, lung, or kidney disease, obesity, underweight, high blood pressure, diabetes, mental illness, sickle cell trait, alcoholism, sunburn, and any conditions that can cause fever. As well review any and all medications as some can make patients more prone to developing sensitivity to heat or sunlight.

Have other ideas for decreasing exposure and keeping heat stroke at bay? Let us know in the comments on our Facebook Post!