When a fit and healthy teenage boy came into his emergency room with nausea and vomiting, Dr Corbett was told by the boy’s coach that he suspected a head injury as they had been running football drills. However, within 20 minutes of admission, this youngster became incoherent and started having seizures. The boy was suffering from heatstroke.
Summer has come to South Africa with a vengeance, with weather warnings across the entire country encouraging people to be careful of the expected heat and humidity. With soaring temperatures comes heatstroke and heat exhaustion, with children and seniors being most at risk.
Causes of Heatstroke
Heatstroke occurs when the body’s core temperature reaches 40°C. This may only be 3°C higher than the usual temperature of the human body, but it’s enough to cause serious internal damage.
We have all had times when we feel exhausted by the heat, and no doubt we have chosen to lie beneath the refreshing breath of our air-conditioner with an ice-cold drink. However, there are times when we don’t have this option and when our body can no longer keep itself cool.
Very hot temperatures and exercise are the main culprits of heatstroke. It’s worth noting, though, that the actual outside temperature is different to the heat index. The heat index (HI) is a measure that combines air temperature and relative humidity in the shade which gives an approximate equivalent of how a human body would feel.
So, humidity is an important factor to consider, especially as the moisture in the air interferes with the function of sweating which is our key method of cooling.
Heatstroke causes swift damage to muscles, the heart, kidneys or brain.
Symptoms of Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion
Heatstroke needs to be treated aggressively and as soon as possible, as the risk of organ failure, shock or brain damage are high.
If you or your companions start showing some of these symptoms, then you need to take immediate action.
- Dizziness or weakness
- A headache
- Rapid Heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Pale skin
- Excessive sweating
- Nausea or vomiting
- Slurred speech and irritability
- Confusion or delirium
- Dark urine (a symptom of dehydration)
However, more advanced cases may look a little different and can include:
- Flushed skin
- Difficulty breathing
- Seizures or coma
- No perspiration even though the ambient temperature may be hot
Who is at Risk?
Everyone is susceptible to heatstroke, but babies, children and the elderly are at a higher risk. In addition, if you are already ill with an elevated temperature, if you suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure or if you are obese then you also fall into a higher risk category.
Certain medications can increase your chance of heatstroke such as diuretics or beta blockers. (In fact, it’s also wise to limit your use of alcohol too.)
How to Stay Safe
Preventing heatstroke is simple and just needs a little common sense. Follow these steps to stay cool and safe this summer:
- Wear loose and light clothing.
- If you need to be outside in the heat of the day (between 10 am – 2 pm) then be sure to wear a hat or take an umbrella.
- Stay hydrated with plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty at the time.
- Avoid sugary or caffeinated drinks as these actually dehydrate the body at a cellular level and will only add to the problem.
- Try to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day.
- Keep young children and babies in an airconditioned room – especially if the humidity levels are over 70 percent.
- Seniors who suffer from high blood pressure may find that their heartbeat is elevated as their bodies try to increase blood circulation to the skin’s surface for cooling, and this can have an adverse effect on their cardiovascular health. They too would benefit from the cooling and dehumidifying effects of a good quality air-conditioner.
Indeed, heatstroke is no small thing, and our South African summers can be brutal! Can you take the heat? If you have family members who would benefit from the refreshingly cold fingers of a quiet and efficient aircon then please give the Toshiba team a call. We’re here to keep you cool!