Temperatures are climbing here in the western United States and that means coping with the heat and preventing heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Heat stroke is a serious condition, which can damage and kill brain cells by causing the body’s temperature to rise to a core temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It can also cause death.
Symptoms of heat stroke include dizziness, throbbing headache, red hot and dry skin, no sweating, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, confusion, disorientation or staggering, seizures, and unconsciousness.
If you suspect someone has heat stroke, you must cool them down as quickly as possible. You can do this by getting them out of the sun, putting ice on their neck, armpits, and groin area, fanning them with water while wetting their skin.
Heat related illness is related to the heat index, which is how hot you feel when the effects of the air temperature and humidity are combined. Higher humidity makes you feel hotter because it hinders your body’s ability to cool itself through sweating. Also being in full sun can increase the heat index by 15 degrees. Some people are more prone to heat stroke than others, such as, people over the age of sixty-five and under four, athletes, people with a chronic disease, someone who is dehydrated or consuming alcohol, sleep deprivation, and people on particular medications (check with your doctor to see if your medication lowers heat tolerance).
Everyone is different when it comes to heat sensitivity. A sudden change in temperature without adequate time for the body to acclimatize increases the risk for heat related illness. There is not a certain temperature when heat related illness becomes a possibility, but the more factors that are present the more aware you need to be to look for symptoms.
To reduce your risk of getting heat stroke or heat exhaustion wear loose fitting light colored clothing, wear a light weight hat with a large brim or that also covers your neck, wear sun screen (sun burn increases the risk of heat stroke), hydrate, and take electrolytes.
For those of us who will be running in the heat you can increase your heat tolerance by running in the heat. Make sure and take the above precautions before you go out to heat train. Take water with you on your run, start small with three miles, and then increase a little bit at a time. If you start to get show signs, seek some shade and try again another day.
If you do get heat stroke, you are more prone to getting it again at least for the next few months because of the damage to your cooling system and because whatever caused you to get it in the first place is likely still present.