Global climate change is causing frequent heat waves which has been the reason for casualties of heatstroke. Heatstroke is a severe form of health-related illness that happens when one's body temperature exceeds 41.1°C (106°F).
Prior to heatstroke
It happens when two less serious conditions are not treated immediately, such as heat cramps and heat exhaustion. From being exposed to extreme temperature or after strenuous activity, heat cramps initially occurs. Characterized by fatigue, thirst and muscle cramps in arms, legs or abdomen. If intensified, it leads to heat exhaustion. Affected person may observe cool and moist skin, headache, dizziness and nausea. Both heat cramps and heat exhaustion are treated by simply rehydrating or drinking sport beverages (such as Gatorade), staying in air-conditioned room or taking a cool shower.
If heat exhaustion is left untreated, it may lead to life-threatening heatstroke. There are 2 types of heatstroke:
1. Exertional heatstroke. Next to spinal cord injury as cause of death in high school students, exertional heatstroke may happen when an individual does strenuous activity in a hot environment.
2. Classic nonexertional heatstroke. This commonly happens to elderly, chronically ill and very young individuals. Generally, affected individuals are those living in areas that are not used to hot environment such as occurrence of heat waves.
Basically, body temperature reaches 41.1°C (106°F) and above. Owing to the body's ability to regulate crisis in body temperature, temperature of lower than 41.1°C may be found. Pulse rate increases beyond normal range due to the heart's effort to cool down the body. In exertional heatstroke, the skin is moist whereas in classic nonexertional heatstroke, it is dry and hot. Flushing of the skin and headache occur. In later part of heatstroke, hallucination, seizure, fainting, and difficulty in speaking and understanding may happen. Younger children and elderly are greatly affected due to their inability to control the environment and intake of fluid. Infant has an immature body system in regulating body temperature. Elderly persons have decreased ability to detect temperature changes and reduced capacity to sweat.
What to do
Heatstroke is a medical emergency and one must never attempt to treat it at home.
Heatstroke can be prevented. Keep a thermometer at home to monitor the area's temperature. During hot-weather or heat waves, adequate intake of cool beverages is very helpful especially sport drinks. But a doctor must be consulted if on a low salt diet or taking medications since sport drinks have high amount of sodium. Strictly no caffeinated and alcoholic drinks as they interfere with the body's ability to regulate temperature. Taking a cool shower cools down the body. Staying in an air-conditioned room is advisable. If worried of high cost of electricity, staying in the shade while sipping cold drinks may help. Keep houses cool by placing potted plants and water in open containers. This can help with evaporation which in turn helps cool the area. As much as possible, sleep in an air-conditioned room or any cooler rooms. Never leave elderly people, babies and children in parked cars. Contribute to the community, check elderly and sick neighbors. It would be cooler to start a community activity like planting trees and help build a greener, cooler world.