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Heat Exhaustion – Heatstroke Facts and Management

When temperature rises beyond 30 degrees Celsius, it’s no wonder people get to escape to the nearest beach, water parks and even kill their time on shopping malls just to ‘cool off’. Basically, living in a tropical country like the Philippines means having to deal with its extremely hot and humid weather especially at this time of the year – summer. Just recently April 2015, PAGASA has recorded a 39.9 degrees Celsius high heat index in the country. “Heat index is a human discomfort index that gives the apparent temperature, or what humans perceive or feel as the temperature affecting their body,” PAGASA said.

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The increase in heat index predisposes someone to experience heat cramps or the more fatal heat exhaustion or HEAT STROKE. But what is heat stroke really?

Heatstroke is defined as a condition caused by body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperature. Heatstroke can occur if one’s body temperature rises to 40 degrees Celsius or higher. It is the most fatal heat injury and is considered a medical emergency and if left untreated it can result to organ failure and may worsen increasing the risk of serious complications and even death.

Heatstroke can be caused by:

  • Exposure to hot and humid surroundings
  • Intense physical activity
  • Wearing of unnecessary clothing that can prevent sweating
  • Drinking alcohol, affecting the body’s ability to regulate body temperature
  • Dehydration

Heatstroke can definitely be acquired by anyone but there are factors that can increase its risk:

  • Children up to age 4 and elderly people over 65, are most likely vulnerable to heatstroke because their body are less able to cope up with changes in body temperature.
  • Sudden increase of temperature. The sudden exposure to a hot weather may result to a high susceptibility to heat related illnesses.
  • Certain medications and health conditions. Intake of sedatives, stimulants, beta blockers and illegal drugs can affect the body’s ability to hydrate. People with chronic illnesses and obesity are more vulnerable to heatstroke.

People with heatstroke show the following symptoms:

  • High body temperature. Body temperature that reaches 40 degrees Celsius or higher is the main sign of heatstroke.
  • Changed mental state. Heatstroke can cause confusion, delirium, irritability and seizures.
  • Redness of skin due to high body temperature
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid and shallow breathing

If you think a person is suffering heatstroke, seek immediate medical help on local emergency services. While waiting for the treatment, immediate actions can be taken to cool the person’s increased body temperature:

  • Put the person indoor or into a shade
  • Unnecessary clothing must be removed
  • The person must be cool with the use of whatever available – use ice packs, put in cool water or shower, spray with water hose and sponge with cool water.

Heatstroke is a predictable illness and it can be prevented by following these steps:

  • Drink a lot of fluids. Drink at least 8 glasses of water and other fluids, such as fruit juices, per day.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose clothes.
  • When going outdoors, don’t forget to use sunscreen with SPF 15 or more.
  • Precautions must be observed by persons with higher risk to heatstroke.
  • Never leave anyone in a car. It is known as the most common cause of heat-related deaths among children.

Although heatstroke is not a great problem for now, it is predicted that it would be soon prevalent due to the influence of global warming. But always remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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About Iril Ian Balderas

Iril Ian is a nurse by profession but a writer by heart. An educator and a social media enthusiast, he enjoys travelling and mentoring students on licensure examinations. He is also a medical research consultant and has the passion for discovering something new and interesting.

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