A study by the CDC shows that an average of 658 people died per year between 1999 and 2009 from exposure to excessive heat. That shakes out to an average of nearly two lives lost each day. Which is a shame, as all heat-related death and illness is preventable.
The three types of heat-related illness are heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, with heat stroke being the most severe of the three. In fact, it can be life threatening. It occurs when excessive heat overwhelms the body’s natural heat-regulating system. When external heat causes someone’s body temperature to rise to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and the person does not receive the required emergency treatment, heat stroke will quickly damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The longer treatment is delayed, the greater the damage and the higher the risk of serious complications or death.
Who Is Most Likely To Suffer Heat Stroke?
The CDC states that people in the following demographics are more susceptible to heat-related illness, including heat stroke:
- People aged 65 years or older, as they are less likely to notice the excessive heat and respond promptly.
- Babies and children, who must rely on others to keep them safe from the effects of heat.
- People with chronic conditions may take medications that worsen the effects of extreme heat. They may also be less likely to notice changes in temperature.
- People who work outdoors, athletes and others who must exert themselves in hot weather can quickly become dehydrated and suffer heat stroke.
- Families living on low incomes can be susceptible to heat-related illness because they cannot afford air conditioning.
What Symptoms Should You Watch Out For?
While a body temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is the primary indicator of heat stroke, other signs can also point to this serious condition. An altered mental state, such as confusion, slurred speech or seizures should never be ignored. Other signs include flushed skin that is hot to the touch (it may be dry or moist); severe headache; nausea and vomiting; rapid breathing and increased heart rate.
What To Do If You Suspect Heat Stroke
Don’t wait to see if someone’s condition improves, or even to drive to the hospital, if you think someone may be experiencing heat stroke. Instead, call 911 immediately. While waiting for emergency responders to arrive, move the person into an air-conditioned building or the shade. Remove any excess clothing. Use any means available to cool them off, such as a garden hose, cool water in the tub or shower, or ice packs placed on the head, armpits, neck and groin areas.
Preventing Heat Stroke
If you’ll be spending time in a hot environment, take steps to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from heat-related illness. Avoid being outside or active during the hottest times of the day when possible, and take breaks indoors or in the shade. Acclimate yourself to the heat before working or exercising in hot weather. Wearing lightweight, nonrestrictive clothing lets your body’s cooling system work efficiently. Drink plenty of fluids and watch for symptoms of heat stroke.