Heat stroke, also known as sun stroke, is an extremely dangerous condition caused by the body overheating. Heat stroke is the most advanced form of heat injury, and progresses from milder, although still serious, forms of heat-related illness, so catching it early and preventing it altogether is the best method.
High temperatures are the greatest risk factor for developing a heat stroke, combined with direct sunlight: spending extended amounts of time in either, especially when you’re not sufficiently hydrated or are physically exerting yourself, greatly increases your chances of injury. Heat stroke sets in when the body can no longer regulate its own temperature; proper hydration levels help you sweat efficiently, which is how your body cools itself. If you’re spending time in the heat, working or playing sports, staying hydrated is essential: drink plenty of water throughout the day, and if you’re really exerting yourself you may consider a sports drink to replace your electrolytes. Avoid beverages with caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, since these leech fluids from the body.
Other ways to support your natural cooling system include wearing loose, light clothing in breathable fabrics — think cotton or linen in light colors, instead of tight-fitting or synthetic cloths — and regularly applying sunscreen. Although sunscreen might not seem like a vital factor, it’s important to prevent sunburn, since having a sunburn reduces your ability to regulate heat and saps your energy.
Be aware of risk factors that make heat stroke more likely. Certain medications, such as diuretics, antihistamines, antidepressants, sedatives or stimulants, and medication for seizures and blood pressure all have side effects that may make you more susceptible to heat or dehydration. People with diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart conditions are also at a greater risk, as are young children and the elderly. Keep a close eye on them and make sure they’re drinking water, reapplying sunscreen, and resting regularly.
One of the simplest methods of prevention is to just take it easy in the sun and heat: plan outdoor activities like yard work and exercise for the morning or evening if possible, rather than the middle of the day. If you are out in the hottest times of day, don’t overexert yourself, don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water, and take regular breaks in the shade.
Heat stroke can be permanently damaging and even fatal, so take action at the earliest signs of heat exhaustion: light-headedness, nausea, cramping, confusion, failure to sweat, and fainting are all early symptoms. If you notice these occurring, move the person to a cool, shady area and apply cool water or ice right away. If the symptoms get worse, call for emergency help immediately.