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more articles by Koch, Drew A. , DO  |  author's bio

Reducing Your Risk for Heat Stroke

Reducing Your Risk for Heat Stroke

By Drew Koch, DO, FACOEP


When summer is at its peak and the days become hot and humid, we see patients in the Emergency Department with symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These are serious conditions: heat stroke can be fatal and is the most frequent cause of environmentally related death in the U.S. Heat illnesses affect people of all ages; however, the very young and the elderly are most at risk for significant problems.


What are heat illnesses?


Our bodies stay cool through the evaporation of fluid, which is the process of sweating. If you are outside on a hot day and you are not consuming enough fluid to allow your body to sweat sufficiently, you are at risk for heat illness.


Heat stroke occurs when your body temperature rises above 104 degrees with central nervous system dysfunction and lack of sweating. Heat exhaustion most commonly occurs in people who are not accustomed to being outside or working or exercising outside in hot weather and who are not drinking enough fluid. People with heat exhaustion may or may not have an elevated body temperature. They typically experience nonspecific symptoms such as weakness, lightheadedness, fatigue, nausea, headache and muscle aches.


Who is most commonly affected?


Young people who are engaging in extreme exercise or athletic competition in the summer heat are at risk, such as athletes who attend sports camps in August. Elderly people with existing medical conditions are at potentially high risk and should safeguard themselves from extreme heat exposure by wearing cool, loose-fitting clothing and hats to protect their faces and necks. We also recommend that seniors get their exercise and do their yard work either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the temperature is lower. Be sure to take fluid outside with you to drink.


We offer a special word of caution to parents of infants. Parents often take their babies out in the summer in strollers. Babies can become extremely warm in these strollers both from being in the direct sun and from the lack of air circulation around them when the netting is pulled down to block out the sun. Babies sweat from the heat but they cannot tell you they are becoming dehydrated. It is very important to give them sufficient fluid to keep them properly hydrated.


Infants should be dressed in a light hat to protect their heads and to keep the sun off their faces and necks. Letting them nap in the sun can be dangerous so place them in the cool shade. And always use sunscreen when you take them outside during the day because heat stroke and sunburn go hand-in-hand.


What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke?


-       Initial sweating followed by flushed, hot, dry skin (due to extreme dehydration)

-       Change in mental status, confusion, hallucinations, or loss of consciousness

-       Core body temperature above 104 degrees


What to do?


If someone you are with has symptoms of heat illness, get the person out of the sun and into a cool setting. Loosen the clothing and cool the person off by applying a cool cloth to the face and neck or gently spraying them with cool water. Give them a sports drink such as Gatorade or Pedialyte to sip. If there is a change in mental status and you suspect the person has heat stroke, get to the nearest Emergency Department by ambulance because heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency.


Dr. Koch is board certified in emergency medicine and is the director of Emergency Medicine at Cayuga Medical Center. For more information call Cayuga Medical Center,











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