Heat Stroke is a highly dangerous condition that requires emergency medical treatment; left untreated, it can cause brain, kidney, heart damage, and even death. Heat Exhaustion is also dangerous and requires immediate first aid and possibly medical treatment. Learn the symptoms of each, steps to take, and how to avoid both of these dangerous conditions.
Many people are accustomed to living and working in an air conditioned environment and/or a mild climate, such as the Pacific Northwest. When summer comes, everyone is elated and runs out into the sun, which is fine, except that many people are completely unaccustomed to the heat. While some people seem to not be the least bit bothered by the heat, others suffer terribly in it. I always cringe when I see someone (usually middle-aged) apparently inspired by the sunshine (we don't get a lot of it in the Pacific Northwest), so much so that they've decided to “start their exercise program” by jogging in the direct sun.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can occur during any new strenuous activity performed in the sun, or any activity that you're used to doing in the coolness (and are suddenly doing in the sun). It can even happen from sitting, standing or walking for an extended period of time in the direct, hot sun. Heat stroke can happen very quickly to any child, elderly person or pet when left unattended in a parked car.
Parked Cars and Heat Stroke: A Clear and Present Danger
NEVER, EVER leave a child, elderly person or pet unattended in a parked car.
Cracking the windows does not help. Children and pets die from heat stroke every year from being left unattended in vehicles – even in moderate ambient temperatures and in mild climates!1
Children have died in 70°F (21°C) weather while left unattended in a parked car.2
A 70°F day can very quickly turn into 110°F inside the vehicle. The temperature inside your car can climb 20°F in a mere 10 minutes – EVEN ON A CLOUDY DAY. Even 60°F is too hot for unattended children and pets in cars.3,4
If you see a situation like this, call 911. For more information, see: “What do do when it's hot out and you see a child, pet or elderly person unattended in a car.
People over age 50 and young athletes are most prone to heat stroke, but it can happen to anyone. The life-threatening condition of heat stroke (also known as sun stroke) can occur when the body is overexposed to the sun (or other high-heat environment), becomes severely overheated (hyperthermic), and is unable to cool itself. The normal body temperature for a healthy adult is 97.8° F (36.5° C) to 99° F (37.2° C). People experiencing heat stroke have a body temperature of 104° F (40° C) or more. Most people don't carry a thermometer around with them, so it is important to learn to recognize the symptoms of heat stroke.
Heat Stroke Symptoms
- sudden dizziness brought on by the heat (heat synscope)
- fast breathing
- strong, rapid pulse
- lack of sweating
- dry, flushed skin (if brought on by heat alone)
- moist skin (if brought on by strenuous exertion)
- confusion (and possible combativeness)
- coma and death is possible if left untreated6,7
What to Do if You Suspect Heat Stroke
If you suspect someone has heat stroke:
- Get them out of the sun or other high-heat environment immediately.
- Call 911.
- Give them water to drink.
- Remove any type of constricting clothing.
- Cool the person by any means possible: put them in a tub of water (if possible), use a wet cool cloth, garden hose spray mist, mist with cool water along with a fan, use ice packs or cold wet towels on the person's head, neck, armpits and groin (these are the places the blood runs closest to the surface).8
Heat exhaustion happens when you're literally exhausted by exerting yourself in the heat and become dehydrated; in other words, you've not replaced the fluids your body has lost. Working or partaking in any strenuous physical activity in the heat can quickly dehydrate a person. Heat exhaustion is dangerous, is a pre-cursor to heat stroke, and must be attended to immediately so that it does not progress to heat stroke.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
- extreme tiredness
- clammy skin
- rapid heartbeat
- nausea or vomiting
- mild temperature elevation9
How to Avoid Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion
- Don't allow yourself to get overheated. If you notice a family member or you yourself feeling a little dizzy or just “not quite right,” and unable to cool down during any summer activity, IT'S TIME TO GET OUT OF THE HEAT AND COOL OFF.
- Always plan summer gatherings so that there is plenty of shade, drinking water and non-alcoholic beverages available. If it gets too hot (even in the shade), it's time to move the party inside. Do not be swayed by the group; if no one one else feels the need to cool off but you feel you need to do so, do it.
- Stay hydrated! Make sure to always have drinking water on hand. Drink water before going outside, during your stay outside and when you come in. Drink small amounts of water frequently, even if you're not thirsty. Your body loses water faster in a hot environment – especially if you're participating in physical activity. If you are partaking in physical activity, you may want choose a low-sugar sports drink (or one sweetened with fruit juices) to make sure your electrolytes stay balanced. Read more about hydration here>>>
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing10
- If the area in which you live is experiencing a heat wave and you live in a small house or apartment that does not have air conditioning, make sure you have ventilation. Get a fan and a spray bottle (or have someone else get them for you), and mist yourself with water while sitting in front of the fan. Use cold, wet cloths to cool off. Take a cool shower. Stay hydrated. If possible, go to a place with air conditioning to cool down for a while each day.
- NEVER leave a child, elderly person, or pet unattended in a vehicle.
Risk Factors for Heat Stroke / Heat Exhaustion
Risk factors that can significantly increase incidence of heat stroke / heat exhaustion are: inadequate hydration, obesity, low fitness level, pregnancy, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, pulmonary illness, cognitive impairment, age (under 4 or over 65), drinking alcohol, kidney disease, diabetes, sunburn, intense exercise, no breaks and/or limited access to hydration during sports practice, people who are unaccustomed to warm or hot weather, elderly people who live alone and don't get out during the day, people who are unable to adequately care for themselves, and people who live in urban areas.11,12
Be aware that certain medications can also increase the risk of heat stroke/heat exhaustion, some of which include: blood pressure medications, diuretics, sedatives, antidepressants, seizure medications, tranquilizers, stimulants, laxatives and antihistamines.13
The Doctor Emi Team
1. McLaren C, Null J, Quinn J. Heat Stress From Enclosed Vehicles: Moderate Ambient Temperatures
Cause Significant Temperature Rise in Enclosed Vehicles. Pediatrics 2005;116:e109–e112.
URL: www.pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2004-2368. Accessed July 20, 2016. (Pediatrics)
2. Parked cars get dangerously hot, even on cool days, Stanford study finds. Stanford Medicine News Center.
2005. Accessed july 20, 2016 (Stanford)
3. Jesse Ferrell. Even 60 Degrees Is Too Hot For Pets in Cars! 2009. AccuWeather.com. Accessed July 20, 2016. (AccuWeather)
4. AVMA. Pets in Vehicles. American Veterinary Medical Foundation. 2016. Accessed on July 20, 2016 (AVMA)
5. Samantha Schoenfeld, Audrey Kuchen. Here’s what to do when it’s hot out and you see a child, pet or elderly person in a car. June 27, 2016. Accessed July 20, 2016. (Fox61 News)
6. Hyperthermia: too hot for your health. National Institutes of Health. June 27, 2012. Accessed July 20, 2016. (NIH)
7. Glazer James L, M.D. Maine Medical Center, Portland, Maine. Am Fam Physician. 2005 Jun 1;71(11):2133-2140. Accessed July 20, 2016. (AAFP)
8. Mayo clinic Staff. Heatstroke, Symptoms. July 12, 2014. Accessed on July 20,2016. (MayoClinic)
9. University of Maryland Medical Center. Heat Exhaustion, Signs and Symptoms. Last reviewed December 6, 2014. Accessed July 20, 2016 (UMM)
10. OSHA. Working Outdoors in Warm Climates. Occupational Safety and health Administration Fact Sheet.
September 2005. Accessed July 20, 2016. (OSHA)
11. Korey Stringer Institute. Heat Stroke Risk Factors: What puts an individual at risk for heat stroke?
university of Connecticut. Accessed July 20, 2016 (UCONN)
12. Bouchama A, Dehbi M, Mohamed G, Matthies F, Shoukri M, Menne B. Prognostic Factors in Heat Wave–Related Deaths: A Meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(20):2170-2176. doi:10.1001/archinte. 167.20.ira70009. Accessed July 20, 2016 (JamaNetwork)
13. WebMD. Heat Stroke: Symptoms and Treatment. Accessed July 20, 2016 (WebMD)