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How to handle heat stroke

May 20, 2018

Summer months mean warmer weather, pool and beach trips, and more opportunity to spend time outside. While you are enjoying time in the heat, it’s important to stay safe.

Prolonged exposure to hot temperatures can put someone at risk for heat stroke, which can be a very serious condition. When someone experiences heat stroke, it means that their body is failing to cool them down, and their temperature will climb to a fever. Many will feel faint, feel dizzy, or even nauseated.

“A key symptom,” says Dawn Sweet, RN BSN, and clinical nurse manager, “is the person’s level of dehydration. Watch for when someone stops sweating, even in the heat.” Other symptoms include quickened heart rate, fast and shallow breathing, and children and the elderly are especially likely to experience confusion or disorientation.

What should you do?

If someone is exhibiting symptoms of heat stroke, take steps to try to cool them down. “It’s important to cool the person down slowly to prevent sudden shock,” says Dawn. If the person is awake, she advises getting them into a cool or lukewarm shower to try to bring body temperature down. You can also apply ice packs to areas of the body that have blood vessels close to the skin: under the arms, in the groin, and the back of the neck are key places.

If the person is losing consciousness, is confused, or if the cool shower and ice packs don’t work to bring the body temperature down, then call 9-1-1 for emergency intervention. Lowering the body temperature may take more than just cool water, and paramedics can administer IVs for rehydration.

How can you stay safe?

There are important preventive measures to take in avoiding heat stroke. Take breaks in shaded areas if you’re going to be outside for a long period of time. Also make sure you stay hydrated with water or juice that has electrolytes. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which are dehydrators. Finally, wearing loose clothing and limiting exposure to direct sunlight can help keep you safe.

“It’s important to stay active and stay healthy in the summer months,” says Dawn. “We just want to make sure we’re doing it safely.”

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