As recently reported by CNN, half of the US is now experiencing extreme heat with temperatures reaching as high as 131 degrees. This puts some 141 million Americans from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states at risk to deadly heatstroke.
In fact, 13 people have been already reported to have died due to heatstroke, mostly children and elderly. This number may even increase as there is an estimated 300 heat-related deaths in the U.S annually, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention.
What is Heatstroke?
Heat stroke occurs when the body reaches a temperature of more than 40.6 °C (105.1 °F) as a result of an extremely hot environment. It can also happen when you exercise vigorously in hot weather, or when you’re dehydrated. Senior citizens are more vulnerable to heat stroke because of their weakened resistance, existing health conditions like heart diseases, and use of medications. Many of the older population also live in houses with poor ventilation or no air-conditioning. Children too are susceptible, especially babies and toddlers.
Heatstroke is the most severe heat illness. It may start with signs of heat exhaustion such as warm and flushed skin, headache, dizziness and weakness, but may progress to emergency condition characterized by a fever of 41C, rapid heartbeat, convulsions, deliriums and unconsciousness.
What to Do
When someone suffers from a heatstroke, the body temperature must be lowered quickly. Move the person into a cool area such as a shady spot or indoors. Make him lie down and elevate his legs. Remove clothing then bathe him with cool (but not very cold) water. Apply cold compress to torso, armpits, wrists, ankles and groin.
If he is conscious, make him drink water. You can also immerse him in cool water but again not extremely cold water as this causes vasoconstriction. Head must be held above water if he is unconscious.
Constantly monitor his breathing and heart rate. Never rub alcohol on him as this may cause further dehydration. Placing patient on this recovery position will keep his airway open. Call for help or bring him to a medical facility.
How to Prevent
You can prevent heatstroke as well as other less serious heat illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rash through these measures:
1. Keep an Eye on Older People Constantly.
Ensure they drink enough fluids and have adequate ventilation. Advise them to refrain from drinking beverages that worsen dehydration such as coffee, energy drinks, tea, soda and alcohol.
2. Do Not Leave Children in the Car When the Weather is Hot.
Make them wear lightweight, bright colored (dark clothes absorb more heat), and comfortable clothing. Make sure they use umbrella, sunscreen, sunglasses and hat when they’re outdoors. Do not let them play games/sports when it’s too hot. Keep them indoors as much as possible. And of course, encourage them to drink more water.
3. Protect Yourself Too.
Be familiar with the signs/symptoms of heat-related illnesses and necessary treatments. Hydrate yourself sufficiently. Schedule heavy manual tasks on days with cooler weather. Wear light and loose cotton clothes. Use sun-protection. Avoid coffee, alcohol, and other caffeinated drinks. Use fans and air-conditioning. Block out direct heat sources. Avoid prolonged exposure under the sun.