One danger of the summer sun is the extreme, sometimes dangerous, amount of heat it gives off. Heatstrokes are a common form of heat injury during warm seasons, and are very serious: in this condition, the body loses its ability to regulate its own temperature, causing heat levels to continue rising.
Once the internal body temperature reaches 104 degreed Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius), it is officially in heatstroke; at this point, emergency medical treatment is required. The human body isn’t designed to function at this level of heat, so major organs like the kidneys, heart, brain, and muscles throughout the body begin to shut down. If left untreated, or if treatment is delayed, they can be permanently damaged.
How does heatstroke happen? In some cases, it’s the result of physical exertion in the heat: outdoor sports or workouts, yard work, and other strenuous activities can lead to overheating, especially for people who aren’t accustomed to high temperatures. In other cases, people develop heatstroke with minimal exertion. Prolonged exposure to severe heat – such as a few days spent in a hot, humid area – puts older people, children, and the chronically ill at greater risk for developing heat stroke. Finally, dehydration is a key factor: forgetting to drink enough water to stay hydrated, along with drinking alcohol (which not only dehydrates you on its own, but also interferes with the body’s ability to regulate temperature) put you at risk.
Symptoms of heatstroke usually begin with signs of milder heat injury. Heat cramps, dizziness, and throbbing headaches may be the first signs, but these are sometimes overlooked or ignored as minor side effects of being in the heat. More serious, and indicative, symptoms include: hot, flushed skin that is not sweating in spite of the heat, nausea or vomiting, rapid or shallow breathing, fainting, and confusion or disorientation. Some people may experience seizures.
If you experience any symptoms of heat exhaustion, take a break in a shady, cool place and drink some water; this can help prevent heat stroke from developing. If you or someone else does show symptoms of heat stroke, call 911 immediately, remove the person to a shaded area, and cool them down until help arrives with water, a fan, or icepacks – whatever means you have available.