With Treasure Valley temperatures hovering around the century mark lately, it’s a good time to review the causes and symptoms of heatstroke in this week’s Need to Know column. The combination of elevated temperatures, hard work or exercise, and an insufficient fluid intake can be extremely dangerous.
Heatstroke is more common in young children, senior citizens, and the obese. Additionally, anyone born with an impaired ability to sweat is at a higher risk for heatstroke. Sweating is the body’s normal way of regulating its temperature, although even at higher temperatures it may not be enough.
Having a few beers while doing some heavy duty yard work on a blistering summer day may seem harmless, but it can actually be quite dangerous. Dehydration, alcohol use, certain medications, and cardiovascular diseases can also increase the risk of heatstroke.
The main symptom of heatstroke is a body temperature that registers higher than 104 F. Often, the person will have personality changes, such as confusion. In some cases, they may slip into a coma. The person’s skin may be hot and dry. However, if the heatstroke is caused by exertion, the skin may be moist.
Other symptoms and signs of heat stroke include:
- Fainting (this is often the first sign in older adults)
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shallow, rapid breathing
- Cessation of sweating
- Elevated or lowered blood pressure
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Irritability, confusion, or loss of consciousness
If a person experiences any of these symptoms, act quickly. Get them out of the sun and into the nearest shady area or inside, preferably somewhere that has air conditioning. Call 911. Have the person drink cold water or any non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverage. Cool them down by covering them with damp sheets or spraying them with water. If possible, have them sit in front of a fan.
If you choose to exercise in hot or humid weather, use caution. Doing so increases your body temperature and puts excess stress on your heart and lungs. In humid weather, things can get even worse as your perspiration may not evaporate quickly enough from your skin, which can have an insulating effect.
Take it easy—there’s no reason to go all out in the blazing heat. Drink plenty of water and fluids, but be sure to avoid anything with caffeine or alcohol as these ingredients actually increase fluid loss. Avoid being out in the midday sun—if you must exercise outside, shoot for an early morning workout. Or hit the gym. Wear light layers and don’t forget the sunscreen. And if it’s just too hot out there, don’t be afraid to scrap your workout and do something else instead. What are you really gaining if the activity you do to be healthy is harming your body? Better to be safe than sorry.
Talk it up:
Do you like to exercise in the hot weather?
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