20th June, 2024
Beat the Heat: How to Recognize and Treat Heatstroke

As summer temperatures soar, the risk of heat-related illnesses, including heatstroke, rises significantly. Heatstroke is a severe and life-threatening condition that occurs when the body's cooling mechanisms fail, causing core body temperature to rise to dangerous levels. Recognizing the signs and taking prompt action can mean the difference between life and death. As a medical professional, I want to equip you with the knowledge to identify and respond to heatstroke effectively.

Understanding Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a medical emergency characterized by a core body temperature above 40°C and the presence of neurological symptoms such as confusion, slurred speech, seizures, or loss of consciousness. Other symptoms may include hot, red, dry skin, rapid heart rate, and rapid, shallow breathing. Heatstroke can occur suddenly or may develop gradually after exposure to high temperatures or strenuous activity in hot environments.

Recognizing the Warning Signs

Early recognition of heatstroke is crucial for successful treatment and prevention of complications. Be aware of the following warning signs:

  • Heavy sweating, cold and clammy skin
  • Headache, dizziness, nausea or vertigo
  • Muscle cramps and rapid pulse
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • If you or someone around you exhibits these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

    First-Aid Measures

    While waiting for emergency medical services, take the following steps to cool the person down and prevent further damage:

  • Move the person to a cool, shaded area or an air-conditioned environment.
  • Remove any unnecessary clothing and loosen tight garments.
  • Apply cool water to the skin by sponging or spraying, and fan the person to promote evaporative cooling.
  • Place ice packs or cold, wet towels on the neck, armpits, and groin areas, where major blood vessels are closest to the skin's surface.
  • If the person is conscious and able to swallow, give them cool, non-alcoholic fluids to drink.
  • Prevention is the Key

    While heatstroke can strike anyone, certain groups are at higher risk, including infants, young children, older adults, individuals with chronic medical conditions, and those who work or exercise in hot environments. To prevent heatstroke, follow these guidelines:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, even before you feel thirsty.
  • Limit outdoor activities during the hottest parts of the day, and take frequent breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing to allow better air circulation.
  • Never leave children or pets unattended in vehicles, as temperatures can rise rapidly to life-threatening levels.
  • Check on elderly or chronically ill individuals regularly, as they may be less able to recognize or respond to heat stress.
  • Use umbrellas, hats, sunscreen and goggles.
  • Heatstroke is a medical emergency that requires prompt recognition and action. By understanding the signs, taking appropriate first-aid measures, and prioritizing prevention, we can save lives and ensure a safe, enjoyable summer for all.

    Dr. Shovana Vaishnavi
    Senior Consultant
    Department of Internal Medicine
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