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Heat Stroke: A Deadly Consequence of Too Much Sun

UPDATED June 26, 2013

By WeatherBug Meteorologists

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Summer is a time that can be enjoyed by all. It is a time for outdoor activities, barbecues, vacations, and just plain fun in the sun. But all this fun can come at a price if you aren`t prepared for the hot weather. Heat exhaustion and the even more dangerous heat stroke could lead you to the hospital or, even worse, death.

When planning summer outdoor activities, it is important to stay alert of the outdoor temperature. When the heat index or even the outdoor temperature rises to extremely high levels, usually above 90-degrees Fahrenheit, frequent breaks in the shade will help keep you safe and cool.

The clothing that you wear is also a factor. It is best to wear a hat and light-colored, loose- fitting clothes. But even more important, is staying hydrated. If you start feeling abnormally hot, it is time to get out of the sun.

If you are experiencing a very high body temperature, along with moderate to severe head or body aches, you are probably suffering from some form of hyperthermia. It can range from the less severe heat cramps and heat exhaustion, to heat stroke, a medical emergency. Infants, the elderly, athletes, and outdoor workers are usually most prone to a heat emergency.

Your body generates heat partly through metabolism, and cools itself through either sweat evaporation or heat radiation through the skin. In the case when there are extreme temperatures, and vigorous activities must be performed, the body may not be able to keep up with the cooling process, causing the body temperature to rise. This is a cause for heat stroke, which if left untreated could be fatal.

The lack of hydration is another cause of heat stroke; staying hydrated is important in extremely hot weather. People suffering from dehydration will not be able to sweat as quickly to cool off. It is best to drink plenty of water. Do not drink alcohol, coffee, or caffeinated teas when you will be out in the hot weather, these only increase dehydration.

Symptoms of heat stroke vary from person to person. In some people, these symptoms mimic a heart attack. Others could experience heat exhaustion symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, headaches, muscle cramps, aches and dizziness, before moving on to heat stroke. Heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke without warning.

Once heat stroke sets in, the symptoms become more severe. Symptoms of heat stroke include: high body temperature -- usually above 104 degrees Fahrenheit -- the absence of sweating with red or flushed skin, rapid pulse, breathing difficulty, hallucinations, disorientation, and in very severe cases seizures and coma.

To treat heat stroke, the first thing to do is to cool the person by getting them to a cool, shaded area and apply cool water to the skin, fan the person, and place ice packs in the armpits and groin areas. Call 911 for emergency services immediately. Monitor the body temperature and continue the cooling process until it reaches about 101 to 102 degrees. The body can usually cool itself from here.

Keeping yourself hydrated and out of the hot, summer weather as much as possible will lessen the chances of any type of hyperthermia, especially heat stroke. If you find that you must be outdoors in this environment, take frequent breaks and drink lots of water. Your body will thank you, and you will be able to enjoy the beautiful summer weather.

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