WHAT IS HEAT STROKE?

Sports Woman's legs in running movement

It’s a record hot day and a local soccer team has been playing in the park for hours. They’ve stopped for water breaks, but it doesn’t seem to help. One of their players has become red-faced and seems confused. He starts driving the ball toward his own goalie. Before he can take the shot, though, he falls down and starts to convulse.

This player has heat stroke. His body has gotten very hot to the touch and can’t cool itself with sweating. You need to call 911 right away. And while you wait for the ambulance to arrive, you need to do what you can to help cool him down. Because if that player doesn’t get medical help right away, heat stroke can cause lasting organ and muscle damage. And if left untreated, his condition can worsen quickly and become life-threatening.

Heat stroke poses the greatest danger of all the heat illnesses. It can happen to people who are active for a long time in hot or humid weather. Infants and children age 4 and younger, and adults age 65 and older are also more prone to heat stroke as they tend to adjust to the heat more slowly and often have problems staying hydrated. Those with health issues such as sunburns, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney, heart, or lung disease are also at greater risk.

Here’s how you can spot heat stroke:

  • Fever: We’re talking 104°F or higher.
  • Flushed skin: The skin turns red as body heat rises.
  • Behavior changes: Watch for changes in behavior such as confusion, agitation, delirium, staggering, or slurred speech.
  • Dry, hot skin: The skin may feel hot and dry if heat stroke is brought on by hot weather. It may feel moist and hot if the stroke follows strenuous activity.
  • Rapid breathing: Breathing may be quick and shallow.
  • Racing heartbeat: The pulse is often rapid and can be strong or weak.
  • Headache: The person may complain of a throbbing headache.
  • Nausea and vomiting: The person may feel queasy or vomit.
  • Seizures & unconsciousness: There’s no question at this point—call 911 if you haven’t done so already!

After calling 911, here are some ways to help cool the person down while you wait:

  • Get them somewhere cooler—into shade or indoors.
  • Remove any extra layers of clothing and shoes.
  • Immerse them in a lake, pool, or cool bath or shower.
  • Wet their skin with a garden hose.
  • Mist them with cool water and then blow air over the skin with a fan.
  • Put ice packs or cold, wet towels on the neck, groin, back, and armpits.

Also, play it smart yourself. If it’s hot or humid outside, think twice before you do any strenuous activity, especially if you’re not acclimated to the weather. If you are active outdoors when it’s hot or humid, be sure to follow some smart habits.

  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your activity.
  • Choose cooler times to work out such as the morning or evening.
  • Wear light, loose clothing and a hat with a wide brim.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine as they can cause you to lose more fluids.
  • Take frequent breaks in the shade.
  • If it’s warmer and more humid than you are used to, slow your pace and shorten your workout.

Keep these tips in mind to make the most of your summer activities while helping keep heat stroke and other heat illnesses at bay.