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11 tips to prevent heat stroke

Family Health
Jul 21, 2020

Also, here are the warning signs you should look out for if you or your children are experiencing heat stroke

Due to COVID-19, many of us are staying home more frequently than ever before. But, even in the middle of summer, that doesn’t mean you can’t safely enjoy the outdoors.

“It’s good for everyone’s mental health to do things outside – exercising, mowing the lawn, washing the car or working in a garden,” says Dr. John Rowlett, Director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine for St. Joseph’s/Candler. “But try to do those things in the morning or later at night.”

That’s because exposure to abnormal or prolonged amounts of heat and humidity without relief or adequate fluid intake can cause various types of heat-related illness. The most severe form of heat-related illness is heat stroke.

Dr. John Rowlett

Heat stroke occurs when the body’s heat-regulating system is overwhelmed by excessive heat. It can be a life-threatening emergency and most commonly occurs in summer months.

“It is easy to get overheated,” Dr. Rowlett says. “We see this in young kids. We particularly see this with our workers who are outside. We see it in people that think they are in better shape than they actually are. Our older population also can get overheated very, very easily. It doesn’t take much.”

Heat stroke can be both treated and prevented. Here’s what you should know to protect yourself and your children from heat stroke.

What are the symptoms of heat stroke?

The most common symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Warm, dry skin
  • High fever, usually over 104 degrees
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Lethargy
  • Seizure

Dr. Rowlett advises those spending long periods of time outside to pay attention to their bodies. When you start to feel tired, rest. If you aren’t performing the job at the level when you started, take a break.

“No one is training for the Olympics right now. They’ve been put on hold,” Dr. Rowlett says. “Try to do things early in the morning or later in the day, stay hydrated and don’t forget sunscreen protection when you are outside.”

Related Article: Know the signs of dehydration as we face the dog days of summer

Treating heat stroke

If warning signs are noticed early, heat stroke can be treated at home or on a job site simply by moving to a cool place and resting as your body cools. You also may want to:

  • Remove excess clothing and drench skin with cool water
  • Fan your face
  • Place ice bags on the armpits and groin areas
  • Drink fluids (cool to lukewarm; very cold fluids can cause stomach cramps) – water is best or look for a low-sugar sports drink

If you experience bad cramping, feel very weak, have a fever, are not urinating or can’t keep fluids down, Dr. Rowlett recommends a trip to the emergency room. Heat stroke can be a life threatening medical emergency and should not be ignored.

“It’s not about being tough and working through symptoms,” Dr. Rowlett says. “It’s about being smart and stopping and listening to your body when you feel poorly.”

Related Article: Take the Heat Stroke Quiz

Preventing heat stroke

Even in the South, where temperatures in the summertime reach above 100 and humidity seems to drip from the sky, it is possible to prevent heat stroke.

Some general guidelines to help protect you and your family from heat stroke include:

  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after outdoor activities, especially on hot days. Drinks of choice include water and sports drinks. Don’t drink alcohol or beverages with caffeine, such as teas, coffee or soda. These can lead to dehydration
  • Make sure you and your children dress in light colored, lightweight and loose-fitting clothing on hot days.
  • Don’t leave children unattended in a car – even if the windows are cracked open.
  • Schedule vigorous activity and sports for cooler times of the day. Take rest periods in shady or cool areas.
  • Make sure you are protected from the sun and wear a hat and sunglasses and use an umbrella. Use a sunscreen that is at least SPF 30.
  • Increase time spent outdoors gradually to get your body used to the heat.
  • Teach children to take frequent drink breaks and mist themselves with a spray bottle to avoid becoming overheated.
  • Student athletes need frequent breaks for water or sports drinks. Most athletes should drink 200 to 300 milliliters (about one cup) of fluid every 15 minutes of exercise.
  • Try to spend as much time indoors as possible on very hot and humid days.
  • Teach your child to warm-up and cool-down before and after exercising,
  • If you or your child has a medical condition or is taking medication, talk to your doctor for further advice for preventing heat-related illnesses.

Related Article: Look Before You Lock: Preventing vehicular heatstroke in children left in hot vehicles

Photo of Dr. John Rowlett taken by Paige Rowlett

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