With the kickoff of the summer season, the temperatures outside have begun to rise as we spend long days on the beach, send the kids off to summer camp, and embark on vacations to soak up the summer sun. As our exposure to heat increases, it is critical to be aware of the signs of too much sun, including the risks of heat stroke and the important steps to take to prevent it.

Heat stroke occurs when the core body temperature reaches up to 104° F, and is caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures and humidity. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion can occur due to excessive physical activity and dehydration in high heat and humidity. Heat exhaustion, which includes symptoms of heavy sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, and feeling faint, can progress into the more serious heat stroke, which can then cause additional side effects such as brain damage and even death.

Because of the increasing temperatures this summer, it is extremely important to realize heat stroke is a true medical emergency that can be life-threatening if not quickly recognized and properly treated.

The early warning signs of heat stroke can be subtle, yet early diagnosis and recognition can save lives. Always be aware of the following heat stroke related symptoms in yourself and your family.

Signs of Heat Stroke include:

  • High body temperature – 104° F or higher
  • Lack of sweating – may display cold chills and/or goosebumps
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Hot, red, or dry flushed skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Racing heart rate and increased pulse
  • Headache and fatigue
  • Confusion – including hallucinations or difficulty speaking and/or understanding what others are saying
  • Muscle weakness and/or cramps
  • Loss of consciousness, seizure, and/or eventual brain damage or coma

Heat stroke can advance quickly in infants, the elderly, athletes, and outdoor workers during activity in hot temperatures. The environmental conditions that typically predispose someone to heat stroke include high and humid temperatures, strenuous exercise, clothing that limits sweat evaporation, and dehydration. All these factors contribute to the serious onset of heat stroke and must be monitored to prevent any initial progression of heat exhaustion. Prevention is the best medicine and key steps are available to prevent the occurrence or advancement of heat stroke during the summer months.

Prevention of Heat Stroke:

  • Stay hydrated – both water and sports drinks to replenish electrolytes and fluid
  • Avoid excessive physical activity and limit exposure in high and humid temperatures
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and soda
  • Eat foods with high water content – fruits and vegetables
  • If you must be physically active in high temperatures – take frequent breaks to hydrate and wear lightweight and loose fitting clothing
  • Never leave infants, young children, or pets in an unattended locked vehicle. Temperatures inside a vehicle can increase up to 20° above the outside temperature, which leads to numerous deaths every summer.

Prevention and awareness are the key. Always remember that heat stroke is a serious medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention by calling 911 or your local emergency services. If you find yourself in a situation involving someone showing the signs of heat stroke, immediately call emergency services, transport the victim to a shaded area or indoors, and place ice packs or cold towels over the neck, armpits, and groin while fanning the victim to promote sweating and evaporation. Your awareness and practice of these preventative measures may save a life this summer and beyond. Enjoy your summer and remember to stay cool!