Even those who do not plan to spend a lot of time outdoors in the hot summer months need to make themselves aware of the heatstroke risk. Heatstroke is a serious condition; if not treated rapidly, could lead to internal organ failure, brain damage or death. Heatstroke is more serious than heat exhaustion, heat cramps or fainting due to excessive heat exposure. Heatstroke is considered to be the final, more severe progression of these heat-related conditions, but can occur without prior warning.
People who spend a lot of time outdoors in the direct sun or in places where temperatures are extremely high, and are not properly hydrated, are more susceptible to heatstroke. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the 10,649 weather-related deaths in the United States between 2006 and 2010, 3,332 were attributed to exposure to excessive amounts of natural heat, heatstroke or sunstroke.
Individuals most at risk of suffering fatal injuries as a result of heatstroke are elderly individuals ages 75 and older. People in this age group had significantly higher risk of death (7.5 per million for ages 75 to 84 and 12.8 per million for ages 85 and older) than those in younger age groups. Children were the least likely to suffer from heat-related conditions or death.
Heatstroke Signs and Symptoms
Being able to recognize some of the various signs and symptoms often associated with heatstroke can go a long way towards helping prevent serious illness or injury. Sign and symptoms include:
- Body temperature of 104 degrees F or higher
- Flushed skin, often related to a high fever
- Light-headedness or dizziness
- Cramps and weakness in muscles
- Sudden confusion, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, altered behavior or changes in the individual’s state of mental health
- Seizures, unconsciousness or coma
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shallow breathing
- Skin that is either extremely hot and dry despite the heat or, if the heatstroke is exercise-related, moist to the touch
- Racing heart rate caused as a result of the heart’s efforts to keep the body cool
- Debilitating or throbbing headache
If you or your loved ones are exhibiting any of the common signs and symptoms of heatstroke, you are advised to seek emergency medical treatment at once. Call 911. Let the dispatcher or paramedics know you suspect heatstroke. In the meantime, do what you can to try and keep the person cool (not cold) by removing excess clothing, getting the person into the shade or an air-conditioned room, and wetting the person’s skin with a damp washcloth or towel.
Ways to Minimize Your Risk of Heatstroke
Heatstroke is a serious injury which can be entirely prevented in most cases, so long as certain precautions are taken. If you understand what may potentially increase your risk of sustaining injury or worse from heatstroke, you can take action to avoid unnecessarily exposing yourself to such dangerous conditions.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day to make sure your body stays hydrated
- Avoid sodas, coffee and alcohol in hot weather
- Wear clothes that fit loosely and are lightweight
- Wear a hat and put on sunscreen to protect your body from sunburn
- Never allow an elderly adult, a child or a pet to be left sitting in a hot car as it can be only minutes for temperatures to rise to the point of causing heatstroke or death
- Avoid exercise and time outdoors during the hottest time of the day
- If you know you are in an age group at risk for heatstroke, take extra precautions to keep yourself safe
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Health Statistics Reports: Deaths Attributed to Heat, Cold, and Other Weather Events in the United States, 2006-2010
- Mayo Clinic: Diseases and Conditions: Heatstroke: Symptoms