Summer weather draws many people outside. Warm air and sunshine can be hard to resist, even when temperatures rise to potentially dangerous levels.
Sunburn may be the first thing that comes to mind when people think of spending too much time soaking up summer sun. But while sunburn is a significant health problem that can increase a person's risk for skin cancer, it poses a less immediate threat than heat stroke, a well-known yet often misunderstood condition.
What is heat stroke?
Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency and the most severe form of heat illness that results from long, extreme exposure to the sun. During this exposure, a person's built-in cooling system may fail to produce enough sweat to lower body his or her body temperature, putting his or her life at risk as a result. Heat stroke develops rapidly and requires immediate medical treatment. If not treated immediately, heat stroke can prove fatal.
Are some people more at risk for heat stroke than others?
The elderly, infants, people whose occupations require them to work outdoors, and the mentally ill are among the people with an especially high risk of heat stroke. Obesity and poor circulation also increase a person's risk of suffering heat stroke. Alcohol and certain types of medications also can make people more at risk for heat stroke.
What are the symptoms of heat stroke?
One person may experience heat stroke differently than another. In addition, because it develops so rapidly, heat stroke can be hard to identify before a person is in serious danger. But Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that some of the more common heat stroke symptoms include:
- disorientation, agitation, or confusion,
- sluggishness or fatigue,
- hot, dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty,
- high body temperature,
- loss of consciousness,
- rapid heartbeat, and
Can heat stroke be prevented?
The simplest way to prevent heat stroke is to avoid spending time outdoors in the sun on hot days. If you must go outdoors, do so when temperatures are mild and the sun is low, such as in the early morning or evening.
In addition to being wise about when you spend time in the sun, you can do the following to prevent heat stroke.
- Drink plenty of fluids, such as water and sports drinks that can help your body maintain its electrolyte balance, when spending time outdoors. In addition, avoid caffeinated beverages like coffee, soda and tea as well as alcohol.
- Wear lightweight, tightly woven and loose-fitting clothing in light colors.
- Always wear a hat and sunglasses when going outdoors, and use an umbrella on especially hot days.
- Take frequent drinks during outdoor activities and mist yourself with a spray bottle to reduce the likelihood of becoming overheated.
Heat stroke is a serious threat on hot summer days. Because heat stroke can escalate rapidly, people must be especially cautious and mindful of their bodies when spending time outdoors in the summer.