A bad sunburn isn’t the only risk of being out in the sun too long: heat stroke, sometimes called sun stroke, is a form of heat stress that occurs when extreme temperatures cause the body to overheat.
A body temperature of at least 104 F is the marker for heat stroke. But it doesn’t just go from 98.6 to 104 in sixty seconds: heatstroke progresses from heat exhaustion, which begins as simple overheating and cramps. But if you don’t allow yourself to cool down, the condition worsens until heat stroke sets in, which, when left untreated, can cause severe damage to internal organs, brain damage, and even death.
The first signs of overheating include headache, nausea, faintness or dizziness, and severe sweating; heat cramps may also occur. As the condition worsens – and coupled with dehydration – a person developing heat stroke often becomes disoriented, has a rapid heartbeat and breathing, and may lose consciousness or have a seizure. As the body continues to overheat, sweating will actually stop, despite the heat outside; skin may appear flushed.
The people most likely to get heat stroke tend to be either quite young or quite old, but athletes are also at risk, and even a healthy young person can develop it in certain conditions. Physical labor or exertion, whether working or playing a sport, in high temperatures increases the chances of heat stroke, especially if someone is not adequately hydrated.
It’s important to stop and treat your heat symptoms when they first appear: if you’re exerting yourself in the heat and start feeling weak, develop a headache or cramps, etc., take a break, preferably in a cool or at least shady spot, and drink some water. If you have muscle cramps or weakness, drink a beverage containing electrolytes, if possible. Encourage children and the elderly to drink water and take frequent breaks. If you are with someone you suspect has heat stroke, move them to a cool area and call 911 immediately. Remove any excess clothing and apply cool, damp cloths or ice packs to the head, groin, armpits, neck, and back and fan air over them. A doctor may immerse them in cold water. It’s important to seek medical attention for heat stroke because it is quite serious and cannot be treated with rest alone; without adequate treatment, there are severe complications.