How to recognize the warning signs of heat stroke and combat symptoms

With summer temperatures soaring and the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities at its peak, it’s important to remember the associated health concerns that come along with our favorite season.

Make sure to take caution when partaking in strenuous activity in high temperatures. Photo: Evan Kirby/ Unsplash

For those of us that take part in outdoor activities on the regular, it’s crucial to remain aware of medical concerns associated with elevated temperatures, including dehydration, exhaustion, and heat stroke.

According to WebMD, the medical definition of heat stroke is “a core body temperature greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, with complications involving the central nervous system that occur after exposure to high temperatures.”

The two main causes of heatstroke include exposure to extremely high temperatures, or strenuous activity.

In the first case, known as nonexertional heatstroke, merely being in a hot and humid environment causes body temperature to dangerously rise. This type of heatstroke usually occurs in older adults and those with sensitive immune systems or chronic diseases.

This guy has the right idea. Photo: Aidan Meyer/Unsplash

Exertional heat stroke occurs when strenuous activity is performed in high temperatures. Activities like hiking, cycling, or even something as benign as yard work, can bring on this type of heatstroke.

The most important aspect of combating heat stroke is learning to recognize the warning signs. Knowing which symptoms may indicate the onset of the condition can aid in prevention and treatment.

Some of the more obvious symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature, nausea/vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing and a headache.

There are also more pervasive symptoms of heat stroke that are harder to recognize, but are clear indicators of an impending health issue. These include an altered mental state/behavior, alternation in sweating and racing heart rate.

Hat, check. Loose clothing, check. Just don’t forget your hydration, and you’ll be good to go. Photo: Gert Boers/ Unsplash

Alteration in sweating, specifically, is a clear indicator that something is seriously wrong with your body’s attempt to fight off heat.

Sweating is the human body’s natural defense mechanism against heat, with perspiration cooling the surface of the skin and regulating body temperature. An absence of sweating means your body can no longer support cooling itself off.

If you are out on the trail and notice any of the above symptoms, take action swiftly. Heat stroke is considered a medical emergency, and should not be treated lightly. If you have cell reception, call 911 right away.

In the meantime, get yourself out of the sun and into a cooler area as soon as possible. If there is any shade on the trail, this will be your best option.

Once you’ve found a cooler area, lie down and elevate your legs. This will promote blood flow to the heart, taking pressure off your overheated organs.

Take off any tight clothing you have, and apply a wet or cool towel to your body if you have access to it. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids as well.

The most effective way to combat heat stroke is to take preventative measures against it prior to exposure to high temperature environments. Wear loose, lightweight clothing, drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen and avoid substances that include caffeine or alcohol.

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